The ABC’s of Researching Your Novel

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Have questions? Need answers? Don’t know where to start looking? Make a list of those questions, keep an open mind, and get ready to sink elbows-deep into the wonderful world of research.

Going to the Library

Visiting the library is a bit of a lost art. A few tips will have you wielding its extensive resources, however, like a pro. Start online. Start from home. Most libraries offer their catalogues online. You can browse expanded lending networks online, too. OhioLink connects most libraries (county, city, university, etc.) in Ohio. There’s a version out there for you. It will have scholarly articles, additional books, specialized trade magazines, and more.

When you visit, look around the shelf where your chosen book sits. Related topics surround it, and you may stumble across just what you need beside the book you expected to find.

When in doubt, talk to your local librarian. Ask for help. They’re literally trained to guide you to the resources and tools you need.

Online Study

Online research is fraught with peril. Anyone can (and does) say anything. Are they lying? Have they verified their information? Has anyone fact-checked this? What expertise equips the writer to inform readers?

Go for websites ending in .edu and .gov whenever possible. Most .org websites are also reputable, but make sure you know the organization’s goals and biases. When reading personal blogs and professional websites, you’ll need to do extra research. Check the author’s credibility. See if professionals in their field have written about them (positively or negatively).

It’s important to remember that people often misrepresent the truth unintentionally. We all assume we know the truth. When we fail to double-check, feel too tired to fact check, or simply assume our source wouldn’t lie, we fall into that trap.

Hitting Up Experts

First of all, respect that experts are often very busy people who’ve worked hard to build up their vast reserves of knowledge. They may be too busy to reply to formal requests for assistance, or they may ask for a fee. If they make their living consulting and/or teaching on the subject, that’s perfectly reasonable. Really, asking to be reimbursed for spending hours making suggestions, reading and/or commenting on your work and ideas, etc. deserves payment. So, even if they don’t ask for a fee, it’s a good idea to offer a small gift (think digital gift card) after working with an expert. It will put you in good standing for future discussions, and they might even name drop you to colleagues.

To consult an expert, begin with library and digital studies. Look for the names of authors who’ve written about a specific time in history, who give guest lectures at conventions, or who practice a particular craft. Make a good list, then send emails/letters to any publicly posted addresses. That should start a conversation, and you’ll go from there.

Notes on Notes

Traditional notes work well – for some people. By traditional notes, I mean pen, paper, and highlighters. You can fill notebooks with literal notes from your research, or you can find a different way to catalogue your thoughts. Do you absorb lots of information from audiobooks? Do you remember more from a lecture at school than what you glean by reading? While those are important things to remember while looking for sources, you should also wield audio tools for note taking. Use your phone’s mic and record yourself reading aloud. Screen captures of digital books and online resources will help you remember context.

What research have you compiled for past stories? What resource did you find most useful? Share your tips with other writers below!

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


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