Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 25, 2015

Research for Nonfiction – Five Tips

erikaphoto-45Erika 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 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.

Talk tomorrow,




  1. I keep a separate Notes page open and when I write a chapter (in fiction) that references the research, I add that link to the Notes. Yeah, learned that little time-saving tip the hard way. 🙂


  2. Nice tips. When I taught, I had to warn students that the Internet was not always the best source. I’d also love to know…where have the bees gone? (Dun Dun DUN!) And was it really pesticide? No idea if that’s your book topic, but I’d love to know.


    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad the tips were helpful.

      The book is actually on bees as bioindicators of our ecosystem as a whole. But it certainly involves the plight of the honeybee too.

      I’ll keep everyone posted on both the book and what I learn about the bees!



  3. Erika, I’m going to share your comments with my classroom writers. You just can’t get this into their heads enough! Your blog post made me thing of my cousin, George Coyne, who just recently passed away. I searched his name looking to see if in his lifetime he’d blogged or written about his life (and his wife’s) around bees. This is what I found, which on the surface may not seem like much…but it showed me the real culture surrounding all these beekeepers! George was one of the apparent few beekeepers in NJ!


    • Hi Gael. I’m so honored to have my piece be used in a classroom, thanks so much!

      Wow. Your cousin was a MASTER beekeeper!! That’s no easy feat by a LONG shot.

      NJBeeKeepers is a GREAT organization. Bees are definitely our next project here on The Farm. When the allocated time comes along, one of my first steps will be to contact people from that organization to get advice and direction. I hope I end up in touch with someone like your cousin and his wife to help mentor me!


  4. thanks for the tips. I love writing and reading non fiction.


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