Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on…
Research for Nonfiction
As I scroll through pages and pages on bees and honey for a nonfiction book I’m working on, I can’t help but be impressed by the authors of yore.
I mean, how lazy am I??? I get frustrated sometimes keeping notes of which websites I was looking at and I’ve even found myself rolling my eyes at the idea of having to go the library again to look at an old reference book.
Then I stop and say… umm, let’s get a little perspective here!!
It wasn’t long ago that trips to the library meant hours spent pouring over card catalogs and historical research involved eyeballing countless microfiche sheets.
Now, I can sit comfortably in my pajamas and search through information with only my eyeballs and my pointer finger comfortably resting on the mouse.
But, you have to know where to look. The Internet is… well it’s hard to find an adjective that quantifies its size. Unfortunately it can be confusing to know what sites you can trust. And I have to remind myself that there are OTHER sources out there.
Here are a few tips I use when doing research for any book:
1) A .com can never be a source
That doesn’t mean its not providing valid and wonderful information! I FIND lots of facts on .com sites. In fact, I would say that quite often the more interesting stuff I find, I first find on .com sites. I click. I read. I get intrigued and I read some more. But then I dive deeper. You have to be your own fact checker and find the information that’s backing up the claim. Anything that ends in .gov and. info are more likely to be quality sources (or to site their own sources).
2) Use the government! Get your money’s worth
We all pay taxes, right? A lot of our tax money goes towards research, and there is truly an unbelievable amount of literature put out by government agencies, on topics you wouldn’t believe. To find it, I suggest direct contract. In my case, bees fall under agriculture, so I’ve reached out to some local government agriculture facilities and received excellent direction.
3) Don’t forget your local strengths
Good ‘ole newspapers. Major kudos to folks who use to flip through stacks of black and whites to find the events they were looking for. And while I’m grateful to not have to do that anymore, thanks to most being available online, they are still a top source for research.
And don’t forget your local universities and museums. These are quite frequently overlooked sources of information. If you’re looking for up-to-date, cutting edge info, there is no better place. And really, if possible, they are best investigated in person. Set up an appointment to speak to someone and you’ll often find invaluable HUMANs who are excited to impart their knowledge to someone else.
4) Take a ridiculous amount of notes
And I mean ridiculous. Information is truly at our fingertips in today’s world, but it can be dangerous. We can acquire so much information so fast that we forget what came from where. And there is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have everything in front of you, but not being able to use it because you can’t remember which is which, or needing to site a source, and having to spend an hour trying to re-find the right page number.
5) Know what you’re looking for
It’s easy to get lost in the world of knowledge. And at first, there is nothing wrong with sprouting out in a few random directions. But I know for me, it’s important that I zero in on what information I want to be putting forth pretty quickly, or else I end up wasting a lot of time. I usually give myself a set deadline, allowing myself a few days of completely engulfment in anything that I’m drawn to. But then it’s time to focus. Know what your goals are and outline exactly what questions you’re trying to answer and what information you want to put forth. You can always change the outline as you progress, but having set goals can keep you from getting lost in the sea of easily accessible information.
Research can be an intimidating step in any book. As I talked about in my post Researching Fiction, it’s important in the development of reality for any setting, topic and even character believability. Having a plan can save time, and produce a fuller, more satisfying and sustaining set of information.
And our manuscripts are worth it!
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.