by Cris Yeager | DIGITAL MEDIA GHOST | WRITING
Most writers agree that research helps shape a story, but how do we incorporate it effectively? The key lies in choosing the right research methods and gathering the right amount of information — and knowing when to stop reading and start writing! Research helps a writer build credibility with readers but can be a burden when stuck for hours on end without inspiration and don’t know where to look next.
Getting started with any one topic often provides ideas for other related ones; that juicy morsel of knowledge that shows up out of nowhere might lead you down another path. And no one writes creatively without first doing their homework! Remember:
The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.
Why research is important
Getting facts of a subject accurate is the most important aspect of informational writing. It’s really easy to misconstrue an idea, particularly when the research hasn’t been done. Be certain that the information is up-to-date and factual by doing the proper homework. The most important part of research is finding a credible source for information. This is one of the most challenging parts of research because there are so many sources out there — which ones are accurate? Which ones are reliable? How to discern fact from fiction? A surefire way to recognize a credible source is if it uses a methodology in gathering its information. The resource should state how the information was gathered and how it was obtained.
Friend or foe?
Research can be tedious when inspiration and ideas have been exhausted, even with a thousand notes there still may be no idea where to start. When just starting, research might feel like a burden. But if research is done wisely — work smarter, not harder — it will pay off in the written words. The questions that arise from research can often lead to solid story ideas, so take some time to look into them before dismissing them as uninteresting or impossible.
Separate the information
If it feels like a chore to separate the facts from fiction and throw them into something readable, never fear — there are lots of ways writers can streamline their research process. Efficient research isn't just staying on subject and gathering facts, it's also breaking down information. This saves time since the details are already known.
Separate gathered information into two distinct buckets: primary and secondary. The primary bucket will consist of sources that are personally found. This includes newspapers, academic journals, magazines, historical documents and autobiographies, websites (like Wikipedia), blogs, textbooks — basically anything that wasn’t written by someone else as part of a direct marketing or promotional campaign. These sources will provide concrete facts that can be used. There are also secondary sources — scholarly books and articles about the subject matter. This type of research helps with framing issues within the current theory and defining terms for readers who might not be well-versed in those ideas yet.
Form a reusable process
How do you know what to write if you don’t first learn about your subject? It may seem overwhelming at first, but a little research can lead to that 'Aha!' moment of inspiration. It all starts with asking questions and doing some preliminary reading. Develop a pattern for researching that can be reused anytime it's needed. Eventually, writing research will become a simpler, more gratifying process. If a topic seems dry or difficult, start small and expand from there — it will save time in writing later on. But most importantly, use research as a tool for understanding a topic. Research opens up new opportunities for expanding knowledge and gaining perspective.