Friday, June 26, 2015

Tips for Effective Research

Research is an important part of most writing. The majority of writers don’t just pull ideas and facts out of their heads. While their writing may appear smooth, logical, even flawless, behind it lies good research.

What and how much you research you do depends a lot of on the finished format of your writing. A short article or blog, for instance, requires far less research than say an investigative piece or a book. Even short stories may require some research to help you become familiar with the subject.

Today, you have at your disposal a multitude of sources of information. Researching for your writing isn’t like anything you did in school. Too many beginning writers remember back to researching term papers and fail to get the right kind and amount of information they need to complete their current work.

The best research begins with good general sources. To fully understand your subject you’ll need background information. Details come later. A quick search for an article on Wikipedia, for example, should give you an overview of your subject. But be careful, some of those articles often have misinformation. You may also find the background material you need in brochures and press releases. This is especially true when writing about businesses, travel, or products. Before compiling a list of questions for an interview, it helps to know something about the subject and the person you’ll be interviewing.

Take profile writing. To write a good profile, you need to learn all you can about the person so that you’ll be able to ask intelligent questions that get to the nitty gritty about their life or business. The more you learn ahead of time, the better results you’ll obtain from your interview.

Sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious. If writing about a product that’s no longer made, you may want to look into learning about the company that produced it. The development of the product or the progression of ownership of the company will often provide interesting details to add color to your story.

All of the above pertain to writing non-fiction. If you’re planning a novel, especially an historical one, you’ll need to learn about the lifestyle of the times so that you can truly convey the atmosphere of life back then. This includes not only major events in history, but the clothing that people wore, the cultural habits and mores of the time, and even the vocabulary and speech patterns to provide authentic dialog.

Finding appropriate background information for a novel can be more complicated and widespread than for non-fiction. It may require you to make research trips to locations you plan to include in your book. While there, you may want to visit museums to find information to fill out the details like costuming and local history. Some novelists begin writing in a broad way and then fill in the details later after completing their research. Others research first and then begin writing.

Whatever type of writing you do, you’ll want to make sure not to do too much research. Overdoing it can be just as bad as finding too little information. Know when to stop. A good rule for an article is to compile twice as many pages of notes, single spaced, as the number of pages of your finished article. Doing too much more than that will result in your using far more material and, in the end, having to cut half of it out to get back to the length your intended publication requires.

If you’re writing non-fiction, you’ll use most of the research you’ve done. But if you’re writing fiction, you may use less than half since the majority of what you write will have to deal with characters and dialog. 

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