Writing Elements: Research


Regardless of when you do it, every writer does some sort of research for their stories.

Perhaps you need more information before you can begin writing, or perhaps you’re at a pivotal part of your story and you’ve realised you need to do some research. No matter the reason why or when you decide to do it, research is a vital step in writing.

What research you do depends entirely on what you’re writing about. For example, if you’re writing about a life experience you’ve not been through, you’ll need to do extensive research. The same applies with genre fiction. If you’re writing a historical novel, you’ll need to research about the time period you’re writing in so you have some level of accuracy.

It doesn’t matter what medium you use to conduct your research. It’d be crazy for me to write down every piece of research you could do because it probably won’t apply to you. Plus, it’d take me countless hours to write it all down and I’d still miss something. So instead, I’ll list the various mediums you can use for research purposes.

1. The Internet

The most obvious answer and the richest resource you have.

However, it’s also the murkiest resource since you have to sift through all the links and web pages to find what you want, and even if you finally stumble on what you’ve been searching for, you then have the hassle of figuring out whether it’s a reliable source or not.

Figuring out how to use Google efficiently isn’t that time consuming, and chances are you’ve probably already learnt at some point. But in the instance that you haven’t, Hubspot has a helpful guide for you to check out. Learning little tips and tricks can save you some time.

Telling you to use the Internet can encompass literally anything, so let me break it down further.

1a. Websites

If you’re searching for specific information, websites can be very helpful with that. However, you should check when it was last updated because sometimes the information can be outdated. Additionally, check any sources they reference to see if they’re real. If the website is hard to navigate around, skim over the information to see if it’s worth staying on the website. But generally, I’d advise leaving since they’ll be other websites that will probably have the same information and laid out better.

1b. Blogs

If you can, check out blogs that have the specific information you’re searching for. For example, I’ve seen a medical specific Tumblr account that goes into details about different medical issues. The people running these accounts tend to be experts at what they know, so definitely consult them if you can. But like the websites, be weary because anyone can tell you anything.

1c. Social Media

It seems obvious, but social media can be a massive help. You can ask questions to specific people who have gone through a specific life experience, or perhaps they have ancestors who went through what you’re writing about. Just be weary what people tell you by fact checking or asking for proof. Evidence and facts are good, but anyone can claim anything.

2. Books

As a writer, you should be reading books for research. However, whether the books are fictional or not is up to you.

Research can be simply read books in your chosen genre to see how they wrote it and adapt that to your writing. Or read a book you’d never normally pick up so you can see how other books are written and to expand your perspective, especially in a world where you tend to live in your own social media bubble.

With non fictional books, the information might be outdated, but it generally lasts because it’s been curated by experts. Additionally, a book can be used without worrying about battery life and can be brought around anywhere with you, depending how heavy it is. Besides, it’s good to get away from technology for a while. It’s very dependent on how you feel towards books.

3. Documentaries

A great resource, depending on the perspective shown. If the narrator is biased in any regard, it won’t be a truthful account. Take Morgan Spurlock’s documentary. It was supposed to criticise the fast food industry and instead was a smear campaign against McDonald’s. Check before you watch as to whether this is entirely truthful, and if not, look at the people it’s offended for why it did. Granted, sometimes people will find any reason to complain, so check the complaints are legit.

4. Exhibitions/Museums

Museums tend to be free, so you can gather as much information as you want. The staff will be knowledgeable about what’s in the museum, especially the tour guides, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re experts. With plenty of resources around, curated by historians and archeologists, it’s a very visual research method, and some have interactive elements to make it more fun and engaging (usually aimed at kids).

You usually have to pay for exhibitions, but depending what you’re searching for, it’s better to go. The information and objects tend to be very specific and detailed with a large focus on it, rather than competing against the rest of history or the museum. For example, if you wanted an extensive knowledge about the Celts and you can’t easily go to Ireland or Scotland, a temporary exhibition about them might be exactly what you need. It’s worth checking. Just be aware of the price, because they can be quite pricey.

5. Places/People

If you can, visiting historic sites or talking to historians/archeologists can be a huge bonus.

Historians and archeologists can provide details about what they know. They’ve done tons of research themselves about their chosen field/s so you can usually ask them questions about it.

Historic sites are a great resource to see how they would’ve lived. The sites might also have interactive elements to give you a taste of what life was like back then, including actors and actresses who perform like they would’ve. It really gives you a physical sense of life in particular periods and how far we’ve come since then. However, these places might not be easy to get to and might be expensive to get into. But it’s definitely worth it if you want a sense of what life was like.

There are probably other methods I’ve missed, but here are a few to get you started.

What methods do you use for your research?


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