Research – for some, it’s intimidating; for others, it’s the best part about starting a new project. But, for almost every writing endeavour, it is necessary.
KWL here today with an overview of what you can use to enhance your research endeavours, followed by a series of tips that can help you out. Whether you are working on your debut novel or are an experienced writer, revisiting, and reviewing how, why and when you research can be extremely helpful.
Unsure where to start with your research? Below is a list of great resources to consider, along with some advice for how to utilize them.
- Similar books – you’ve probably already done this! Reading books like your own is a great way to research and take a look at what is on the market. Head to your local library, browse online, or visit a bookstore and see what you can find. Most likely, however, you already have bookshelves and a digital library filled with books thematically or stylistically similar to the one you are writing. Writers tend to read what they enjoy writing, so don’t neglect a much needed revisit to your own shelves to continue or kickstart your research.
- Google Scholar – this is a great option for those of you looking for academic articles or otherwise peer-reviewed works from accredited universities, colleges, and other institutions. Google Scholar will bring up these kinds of materials based on your keywords or the quotes that you enter. This is a great resource for when you need to implement hard facts in your writing – no more guessing necessary!
- Your local library – when Google just doesn’t cut it, head to your local library, and browse their shelves. I’m a big believer in accidental discovery – head to the section that suits your research interests and simply browse the shelves for a while, grabbing what catches your eye based on its title. Look through these books and see what you can find. Alternatively, use your libraries digital options to browse from home. Either way, this is a cost-free, explorative alternative that can make a day trip out of your research efforts. Plus – help from librarians is always available!
- Documentaries – if you are a little worn out from all that reading, try a documentary. There is a wealth of documentaries out there on every subject imaginable; find a few that align with your subject matter and take some time to watch them. The visual element can be of great help, too: you might gain a clearer picture in your mind of what you are describing when you write. Documentaries are also extremely entertaining and can double as a nice break from reading and writing while still keeping your mind engaged with the research effort at hand.
- Podcasts – like documentaries, there are podcasts on any and every subject you can think of! Spend some time searching for podcasts that feature experts or hosts who are conversing about the content you are researching. Podcasts can be a great way to sate your curiosity, too: what do others know about this topic? What drives people to research it? What experts are out there that may not have been featured in books or documentaries? Podcasts are another option for when you don’t have the energy to read and take extensive notes; simply lie back, close your eyes, and listen.
- Other authors – reach out to other authors in your community or who you know personally! Sit down for a conversation over text, at a café, online, or even in your living room. Other authors can offer you a wealth of knowledge on certain topics, and many of them are experts of the fields they write about in their own right. Don’t underestimate the power of a good conversation as a research tool!
Whether you are in school, are a recent graduate, or have been finished with your schooling for some time, it’s in your best interest to research with a plan. The following are tips you can implement into your overall research plan for a more enjoyable experience overall.
- Schedule time – this may seem obvious, but it’s best to schedule a set amount of time for your research. Don’t simply say “I’ll spend an afternoon researching” – make it a priority to set an amount of time. That time could be organized as 4 hours starting whenever you wish; or it could be more specific, such as from 4pm to 8pm. However you schedule your time is up to you, but don’t go into a research session with a vague idea of how long it will take! Adjustments can always be made, of course, but dedicate that time in the first place and you’ll find it much easier to stay on track.
- Take breaks – once you’ve scheduled your research period, pencil in your breaks. Only have an hour to research? A 5- or 10-minute break should suffice. Going to the library for 4 hours? Make sure you give yourself a half hour to get up, stretch, and grab something to eat or drink. You know yourself and your patterns best: if you’re someone who fares better with shorter, spaced-out breaks, go for that! But if you need, say, a full hour to recollect yourself, then don’t force yourself to implement those shorter stints. At the end of the day, always be sure to take a break!
- Keep notes – again, another obvious point – but one that must be stated. Take notes, whether it’s on your laptop, a notepad, a recording, or a voice transcription. Write down what is relevant to your research, along with any ideas you may have for your writing. Keep two notebooks or two separate documents if having both your research and your ideas in the same place would be confusing or difficult to parse later. Don’t worry about making your notes organized at this point – that can come later!
- Review notes – after your research period concludes, review your notes later. Cross out what isn’t really all that relevant and highlight what is. This will help you exclude irrelevant info and (quite literally) toss out excess information.
- Transcribe notes – if you took notes in a notebook, consider typing them out. Likewise, if you made a recording, transcribe it. This way, you can digitize and organize your research, and more easily add it to other, pre-existing documents and folders you have set up for your writing project. Even scanning your notebook pages is a good idea – always have a back-up!
- Avoid information overload – circling back to taking breaks, it’s important to recognize not just when you need a break, but when you need to stop researching altogether. You won’t gain anything from forcing yourself to continue! If you find yourself getting tired, confused, lost, or losing too much focus (the occasional distraction is okay), then stop. Return to your research later or another day. Your efforts will be better for it.
- Set goals – lastly, set goals, whether they be time-based (“I want to research 2 hours a day!”) or content-based (“I’m going to read at least 3 articles per research session!”) or even based in how many pages of notes you can take per session, per day, per week, etc… Having these clear, easily accessible goals in mind will help your research efforts have more focus overall. Sometimes, research can be completed in a matter of days – for other authors, it can take years! Work out how much research you will need to do early on if you can, and if you can’t, make sure to limit yourself. We are all guilty of going down rabbit holes and finding out more and more about a subject – researching can, truly, go on forever. Setting a goal will help curb your curiosity when necessary and get you closer to the next step: writing!
Regardless of how long researching takes you, I can assure you that it is worth it – and that it can be extremely enjoyable.
How do you research for your writing? Share any tips or tricks you have with the KWL community below! And, as always, happy writing.