Research Tips for Writers

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Whether you’re telling a story about vampires in the London fog, or deep sea divers searching for gold at the bottom of the ocean, chances are you’ll need to find supporting information to enhance your understanding of whatever given subject you’re writing about.

I believe that research is essential to helping you tell a good story.  The information you find while conducting your research will help you think of ideas and move the story into richer areas that you never would have thought of otherwise.  For me, the story idea I’m working on is like a hunk of stone and the research is the chisel I use to chip away at it to bring the sculpture to life.

With that said, I’d like to share a few methods that have worked for me.  I am currently working on a series about Mars, so the examples I’ll show here reflect Mars as my research subject.

Let’s begin.

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I like to keep a notebook and jot down information that I think will come in handy.  If writing things out by hand isn’t your thing, you can do the same thing with your word processing system of choice.  Either way, it’s a good idea to keep a separate space (be it either paper or digital) where your research information can be stored and easily organized.

The following are three of my favorite go to methods when searching for information on my story subjects.

  1. Documentary Films

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Documentaries are chalk full of information, much of it condensed down for time and presented in basic terms that a layman such as myself can understand.  Usually what I do is sit in front of the television with my notebook and the remote control handy.  When something is mentioned that sounds important or sparks an idea, I pause the video and jot it down.  Thanks to the advent of streaming, there are plenty of videos available on platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  You might also want to check with your local library and see what DVD’s are available.  If they don’t have a specific title, they can likely order it for you.  It’s a great way to get some productive use out of your TV time!

2. The Internet

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This one might seem self-explanatory, but I like to go a little deeper than simply hitting Wikipedia for some quick cliff notes (some of which might not always be 100% accurate).  Instead, I like to keep my eyes out for articles that offer something relevant to my subject.  If I feel that it has information that I might want to refer to later, I save it in my favorites file and then make a notation in my research notebook.  I also make sure to cite the title and subject mater.  That way, I can refer back the article anytime I want to access its information.  Another tip: try to stick to articles from reputable sites in order to maximize the information’s authenticity.

3. Books

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Lastly, I still like to do the old school method of gleaning information straight from books.  You know, those stacks of bound paper with words and sometimes pretty pictures inside of them.  Often, I’ll skim through a book on a given subject and concentrate on the segments that mention something pertinent to what I’m writing about.  If it’s a book I purchased for myself, I’ll highlight the needed information and flag the page with either a rabbit ear or bookmark so I can refer to it later.  If it’s a book I borrowed from the library, I’ll jot the information down in my notebook along with the book’s title and author so I can cite where I got the information from in case I need to refer to it again later.  If e-books are your thing, you can still highlight passages and jot down information as you go.  Used bookstores are a good source of reference material, much of it you can get at a discounted rate.  You can also borrow them from your local library, though you’ll have to make copies of any segments you like or write the information down before returning it.

These methods have served me well in my search for information to enhance the stories I’m working on.

I truly believe that research is an important and necessary part of the creative process.  It should be a joy, not a chore.  If you’re writing about a certain subject and you find that you hate looking up information about it, chances are it’s not the right subject for you and you might want to think about switching gears to something else.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of research.  Is there a particular method that works for you that wasn’t mentioned here?  Feel free to discuss it further in the comments section.  Thank you!

Available now: Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets featuring my story Helen of Mars. http://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-Girls-Tales-Gadgets/dp/1512325619/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1446389530&sr=8-1&keywords=brave+new+girls

Coming soon: DEBBI: the first novella in the Rovers of Mars series. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26594286-debbi?from_search=true&search_version=service

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