Writers are creators of worlds and universes, as well as characters – worldly and otherworldly. Doing your research goes a long way to ensure that what you create is credible and realistic not just in your eyes, but the eyes of the reader.
Proper research ensures the worlds you build are convincing and the characters you develop are strong and have depth, while adding flavor to the story.
Research covers any number of topics and areas. Use the following tips to ensure your research process is thorough and effective.
1. Identify Research Needs
Review your story to determine what areas or items need to be researched. This includes:
- Language specific to the period or region the story is set. If your story is set in the deep South, understanding Southern vernacular is critical to creating realistic dialog
- Music, art or literature that applies to story or character. If your main character is a punk musician, your character will need to have an understanding of punk culture, history and influence.
- Political and social movements specific to the period or region. If your story is set during prohibition in Atlantic City, understanding the city’s politics and the history and impact of prohibition will go a long way to creating a credible setting.
- Natural and historical events that impact your story. If your story is set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, an understanding of hurricanes and flooding is necessary for the reader to get a sense of the conditions and dangers your characters face.
- Religion and cultural traditions applicable to your setting.
Once you have identified what needs to be researched the next step is to determine what information is beneficial and necessary to the story, and what information is not worth investing research time and energy.
Too much information, especially unnecessary information, reduces the tension that keeps readers interested and bogs down the pace of the story.
2. Develop Research Plan
Once you have identified research to be done, the next step is plan how you perform research. This includes:
- Determining when research should be performed. Perhaps there is research that needs to be completed before starting your book. There may also be some research that needs to be performed once the book is in process to account for ongoing changes to the story.
- Setting realistic research goals and time schedule to be factored into your overall project plan. This eliminates stress caused by not meeting unrealistic deadlines.
- Determine how best to record and store research material. This could be on your hard drive, a flash drive or using a tool to assist with this task. Examples of tools include:
- Scrivner: lets you store text files, as well as audio or video, and save entire web pages. Storing your research in digital form makes it easily searchable.
- Evernote: lets you create digital notebooks to collect all your research including text, audio, video, web pages, and images – all of which is searchable. Evernote has apps for iOS and Android, allowing you to store information in the cloud.
3. Use Credible Source
Identifying credible research sources is key to the success of your research. Books, first-person interviews, online resource material, even personal experience all account for the various ways to perform research. Whichever you choose, make sure your source is credible.
Trustworthy sources include:
- Government (.gov)
- University (.edu) sites
- Private organizations (.org) and news sites.
While Wikipedia is tempting, it is not the most reliable content source. Use Wikipedia for its list of sources cited at the bottom of article pages.
And remember, credible research is a cornerstone of good writing.