We know what we believe and no pile of facts or expert opinions will propel us out of our comfortable Lazy-Boy of certitude.
Even if you disagree with every fact you uncover, research is fun, researching for a book or article can become the project itself, every bit as agreeable as an afternoon spent on Pinterest.
Oh look, puppies!
I teach a class on critical thinking and writing so much of my rant about research and the veracity there in, is to prevent students from quoting urban legends or common wisdom, or FOX news. Yes, you say, still seated comfortably, perhaps pulling a beer from the cooler embedded into the chair arm, but research is just for academics, I write fiction, no need to research, it’s my world building against yours.
That was BG. Before Google. In the happy past, women knew their place, white men made a living wage tightening wing nuts and fiction writers used to be more or less exempt from research, it was our world after all, get over it. But like the wing-nut tightening business, the industry changed.
Everyone can look up everything. Which means that you, the author, need to be more diligent with your facts and claims and yes, do more research, which will lead to the problem stated above, the more you love the research, the fewer words will end up in your final book.
So we have two challenges: You need to do research, but the research will quickly take on a life of its own through no fault of yours (puppies).
What to do?
- Haul yourself out of the recliner.
- Limit the research to three credible sources.
- Look for consensus and then just write from there.
Credible? How the heck can I know what is credible?
Ask a couple of questions about the site, or journal, or white paper you’ve just encountered on your digging search:
Commercial or Academic?
Is the information you found just advertising copy? Double check against another site to be sure.
Links to corroborating sites.
Look for links to other sites – often academic and legitimate sites cheerfully link to more information or to deeper sources. Flow the links from one site to the next to next.
For an academic paper your goal is to find the original sources, kind of like finding the source of the Amazon. Sometimes it feels like it takes that long as well but it’s worth it, just to be very clear.
Can you find the original article? ( I’m looking at you Huffington Post.)
Dig deep and find the original article or journal rather than just believing, and quoting, the first time you see the comment.
Yes, you can start with Wikipedia
Believe it or not, as much as academic denigrate Wikipedia Wikipedia isn’t a bad way to start your research. Just don’t end there. Ever. Yet, the OED was essentially crowd sourced, and Wikipedia is gaining legitimacy. However, I’m still a fan of digging deeper.
Contact the author.
Is there an email? Can you contact the author of the web site or journal article? Can you ask them a direct question about what you need to know? Probably. Give it a try. You know yourself that you love to be considered an expert in your field, give that compliment to another author, they may respond with great information.
Or did the author of the web site post a selfie wearing a colander covered in tin foil? A professional tip: don’t reference that site.
If you are writing fiction, you may want to write the novel first, then research only what you need to research. That will help narrow your search and allow you time to actually write, rather than just research as fun as it is.
Oh, and did you know you can create pin boards that track your research, discuss your work in progress and are all about your book? Sorry. Now you’ll never get that book started . . . But aren’t the puppies cute? Make a Pinterest board.