In this post, we explore research techniques for all writers, bloggers, students, and journalists.
Research is important for good writing.
Grammatical mistakes are an easy fix. Research errors or flawed facts are not, especially once a piece has been seen and shared by its readers.
Are you a blogger, writer, or journalist?
You wouldn’t want to know that a professional nurse read your medical fiction story, and hated it. You wouldn’t like to hear that a news story or link you referenced was incorrect, outdated, or spam. You don’t want to get hate-mail from an actual business with the same name as your villain’s evil corporation.
Research right, or send your story’s credibility to the graveyard. Factual flaws and procedural mistakes can ruin a potentially great work.
Here are six practical research techniques for writers.
6 Practical Research Techniques For All Writers
Mistakes are embarrassing for the writer, and backfires on the publication. Flawed research takes away from good writing. But then, how can writers always get their facts straight?
1. Use Search Engines Right
Search engines can be a useful research tool. Used wrong, search engines can also be misleading or take your research in the wrong direction.
- Use quotation marks to search for exact words.
- Prefer authoritative sources above informal results.
- Always verify one source with another, even if #1 ‘seems’ correct.
- Use advanced features for a refined search (for example, specific dates or domains).
Search engines are tools, and like knives, it matters what you’re pointing them at.
- TinEye – lets you find potential sources for an image.
- Pipl – lets you find people and personal information.
- DuckDuckGo – does not track ‘cookies’ and gets more individual results.
2. Archival Digs
Archives are beneficial to verify facts, but also to establish timelines. What was news in September, 1973 – the date when your character time travels?
Search specific archives (by keyword) if you would like to know, verify, or place a fact.
Newspapers, blogs, and academic sources usually have archives. If archives are not public, direct your questions to the nearest email address.
Archival searches are much like a time-machine: go right back to the language and topics of the age.
3. The Online Experience
Visiting every writing destination in person is a writer’s dream. But what if you have to write about a place you don’t have the time or money to be?
An online experience allows writers to verify crucial location-facts in an instant.
- Maps & Street View
- Interactive Virtual Tours
- Live Streaming Feeds
A virtual tour will never be as good as physically being there: but for scene research or fact verification, a thorough online expedition is useful.
Interviews are the answer if you are a writer who doesn’t know something (or needs to verify something else).
Search engines allow you to ask general questions, but lack the discussion of a good interview.
How would the average person act after committing a crime – even a murder? Ask a prosecutor, judge, or police officer during an interview. Otherwise, you as a writer, would be guessing at a situational plot.
That is just one example.
Where do you locate experts?
- Representative Organizations
- Authoritative Or Industry Forums
- Listing Websites
If you write fiction and see a situation happening, ask the right experts: is this possible and plausible?
There’s almost nothing worse than a factual faux-pas when you could just have asked someone.
5. Serious Study
Search engines and interviews don’t (always) reveal all. Niche markets or technical fictitious scenes can require a hands-on approach from the writer.
Dear writer, it becomes time for more serious study:
- Tutorial videos
- Free courses
- Paid courses
Throw yourself into the deep end, and learn how to do it yourself. Acquire a new (legal!) skill alongside your planned character or article.
I learned how to play bridge several years ago. Today, I write a daily playing card column. Learning a new skill paid off.
What will you learn for your craft?
Jean M. Auel, as one example, undertook a similar approach to her research. She would spend a great deal of time with professors and experts, physically learning skills like fire-making herself.
6. Checking Research (For Writing)
Mistakes happen due to guesswork, and a lack of double-checking. Research should always be checked for accuracy and consistency.
Never assume an editor will look, and never guess that everything is as correct as when you last looked.
Expert beta-readers are recommended for fiction and nonfiction. Choose an expert to assess your scenes and paragraphs for accuracy. It’s better to have one expert tell you, than to hear it from a hundred readers after publication.
Have you noticed that many writers thank experts in the liner notes or introduction? It is because accuracy is always preferred!
The Last Word
Research is a large part of what makes writing good, or painful to read. If you’ve ever found factual mistakes or procedural errors as a reader, you’ll know why you should avoid these errors as a writer!
By Alex J. Coyne.
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