Tuesday, October 25, 2011

8 Tips for Slicing Through the Research Jungle




When you begin researching a project, do you ever feel like you're lost in a thick jungle and can't slice your way out? Me too. I actually love doing research, and have a habit of clicking from one subject to another, learning fun new facts. I have to be careful not to spend all my writing time doing research, because otherwise I'd never finish a project.

How can we avoid getting lost in the research jungle? Here are some tips that work for me:
  1. Research as much as we can before writing the first draft. Not only does this arm us with important facts, but this research will likely spark new ideas to deepen our plot and character.
  2. When writing the first draft, unless it's vital to the plot, do not slow down to do research. One trick is to type in (research) and follow up later. This prevents us from getting sidetracked during this phase and slowing down our momentum. Once the first draft is complete, we can find (research) and fill in the missing information.
  3. Check multiple sources. One place to start is Wikipedia, although this cannot be cited as a reputable source. But at the bottom of the Wikipedia page there's a list of links and books that will lead us in the right direction.
  4. Keep track of our sources. We can jot down book publisher information and page numbers on paper, and store them in a notebook. And we can create a new research file on our computer for each project and bookmark relevant websites.
  5. Ask an expert. Most experts are willing to spend time speaking about their specialty. I wrote and sold an article based on the Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns. Although I had done extensive research, the article truly came to life once I spoke with an actual guard.
  6. Do a Google search for organizations that specialize in our subject. Often they'll have web sites with FAQ's sections, books on the subject, pertinent links on the sidebar, or discussion boards.
  7. Search for personal blogs. If our research involves a human condition, it's possible there's a personal blog out there on the subject. I once found an online diary which provided all kinds of fascinating insight.
  8. Enjoy! There's so much amazing information out there, and we're the lucky writers who get to gobble it all up.
Have you ever done research for a project? I'd love to hear what worked for you and what didn't.

Congratulations to our blogging buddy, Vicki Tremper, for winning our signed copy of Beauty Queens. Lisa Green, Leslie Rose, and I hope you love it!

34 comments:

  1. I am intimidated by research. That is why I don't write historical fiction. I do sometimes do a google search for a little tibit. But nothing in depth. But I do, do a lot of story building and your advice applies to that as well :)

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  2. Wikipedia works fine to get your background for fiction, or to spark new ideas. I like to read biographies of people who lived at the time I'm researching. Biographies give you all kinds of information on food, clothing, setting, etc. Recently I looked at books of Impressionist art to get an idea of how people decorated their homes in the late 19th century. Sometimes you have to get creative!

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  3. Great post, Julie! I'm in the middle of doing some major research right now; thanks for the encouragement!

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  4. Hey Miss Julie! I love doing research. Learning about new things excites me :) Right now I'm researching genetics and I love it. It was my favorite class in college so I'm understanding what I'm reading. Next up is finding out what kind of desserts are popular in England and what kind of furniture would be found in an Irish manor. Odd combination, huh? I'm one of those that researches EVERYTHING. I love details. Especially setting details....like cultural things we don't often think about and naming specific streets, parks, buildings, restaurants, etc. One thing I did was actually friend people through Twitter who live in the areas my book is set. They are fabulous and willing to send me any info I might need.

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  5. I research quite a bit, actually. I utilize the library and just read and note take. You should see my journals of notes. I enjoy the research part of it, which I do before I draft.

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  6. A great list, Julie.

    I do Civil War reenacting - that is research in itself. I know about the camp life of a soldier, as well as civilian life of that era - all just by doing a living history.

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  7. I need to refer back to this because you are the go to girl for research! You rock.

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  8. This is what slowed me down before -- researching in the middle of a draft. The research became a uh, "procrastination outlet" instead. Learned some cool stuff though!

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  9. I'm a research junkie too! What a good point about looking for personal blogs that deal with specific situations - I remember finding the best help for how to deal with a friend with bipolar from a blog written by a woman with a bipolar husband. But I never thought of extending that with my writing research.

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  10. I love research. It's like a treasure hunt for me. I tape all the pages I print out and tape them into my MS spiral where all my pre-writing bullet points dwell.

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  11. Great tips! And it's totally true about people liking to share their knowledge. I wrote a picture book manuscript about unusual plants and decided to get some expert interviews. I was really nervous and asking, because people are busy and there was no way of knowing if the book would even sell. But almost every person jumped at the chance to answer my questions.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  12. I actually love research, too. But I can't just leave a blank and keep writing-- I find I have to do the research *right* then, or it hinders any further progress. Hm. Maybe I should work on getting over that...

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  13. I love, love, love all these research tips. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  14. I love researching! I tend to get totally lost in the jungle for hours. I learn lots, but by the time I surface, I'm usually way off track!

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  15. Thanks for the reminder about wiki links - I always forget about those.

    I haven't had to do much research so far, but my NaNo project will, I think, be set partly in 19th century London - yeah, I'll be doing that research in December :-)

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  16. I did tons of research for my historical romance and quite a bit for my YA paranormal/historical and I'm sure I got sidetracked more than once. Great advice!

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  17. Because I tend to over research, in my last 2 wips, I started with the bare minimum, then wrote the first draft. Then I knew what exactly I needed to research. Now those aren't historicals. If it was a historical wip I'd do more research first.

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  18. Excellent tip! And... then use a fraction of what you gathered. Okay...that's what Robert Dugoni said. He's a wise man who writes a good story. I love research. I can't imagine life without Google.

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  19. I just did a lot of research on how to fly a Cessna. My MC had to learn to pilot one. And it was fun, but confusing sometimes!
    I love the "type in (research)" thing. I'll do that next time!
    <3

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  20. I absolutely love research. It makes me feel armed and ready when I pound out that first draft. I use wikipedia quite a bit for the links alone. It's an excellent resource to start off from.
    Can you imagine back in the day when writers had to consult hard back encyclopedias and/or spend hours in the library?? Writers today really do have it made... maybe that's why there are so many of us. :)

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  21. Great tips! I had not thought about checking out the Wikipedia links, but I have interviewed experts. What a wealth of information people have. And most people are happy to chat about something that interests them. Sometimes they even offer other ways to go deeper with the research.

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  22. I love doing research! I spent almost three hours last night doing it.

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  23. This is such great advice. I always have trouble starting a project, because I'm too overwhelmed by the magnitude. Break it into little steps. Or, like me, write fantasy and make most of it up :)

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  24. I research some, but like you said--I try not to let it hamper the story flow. BUT, having said that, there are certain things that I have to research before I can continue on! I'm not a real research fiend though.

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  25. This is such good advice. I'm such a pantser, I usually have to research as I go ... and it does slow my writing down. I can definitely see the advantages of being a plotter and being able to research BEFORE you start the book.

    Amy

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  26. Those are awesome tips! I actually hate research, but I know it's necessary so I bite the bullet and do it anyway. I envy people who actually enjoy it!

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  27. Great tips! My current WIP hasn't required too much research but I think my next project will. I'll take your advice and try to get all of the research done before drafting.

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  28. I agree with all of the above. :) I particularly love talking to real people as part of my research. I learn so much more through others than I do through the internet or books (though those are GREAT resources too).

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  29. I ran into the problem of stalling with on one Historical Fiction I started writing; I interrupted myself with looking up details and lost the energy I had for it.

    I find OneNote is a big help with research--it adds the link of the source of copied material, and it's easy to organize things into folders/subfolders.

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  30. Working with my new Scrivener program has really helped me keep track of research (I had a big problem with this on my previous novel). I agree, do the bulk of your research before writing draft 1, but I've also found that dipping my toe into some research subjects during the writing has inspired me with images/stories/fables etc that take the writing in a new, better, more interesting direction. So I guess my take on it is: do both.

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  31. Great post, Julie. I did a little research for my last WIP which is currently on submission. I enjoyed the process a lot. Unfortunately I did the research much later after the first few drafts were completed. I will not make that mistake again.

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  32. brilliant insight, Julie! I have done research before, and I did do most of it before I started writing. I felt like I was procrastinating, but I found that as I was writing, it was in my head and I was able to keep flowing and being creative w/o having to stop. Great tips! Happy Halloween! :o)

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