Finding the Right Information for Your Writing Project


bookshelf

Whether you’re writing a fiction book, a nonfiction book, an article, a persuasive letter to the editor, locating a good recipe for a special mean, or even just an informative comment in a blog post, there will be times when you will need to research a topic.

Probably the most important thing that you need to know when doing research is to know exactly what you need to know before you begin so that you do not get bogged down reading research materials and end up going down rabbit holes along the way which steals valuable time.

Begin with a goal in mind

Know specifically what you want from your research.

It used to be that when we had to research information from books, we would have to wade through hundreds of volumes of books to find the information that we were looking for. Now, we can simply go to the internet and within minutes we can find the information we want in minutes rather than hours or even days. However, there is so much information out there that it is easy to get lost on the information highway. That is why it is important to

For instance, in my upcoming book: Book V of the Locket Saga:  In the Shadow of the Millpond, I wanted to describe a keelboat, so I needed a good description of one. Rather than just type “keelboat” into the search engine, I typed in “description of keelboat”.  This got me the specific information that I was looking for. Even when I am doing macro-research, I try to get as specific as possible. When  I wanted to know more about “Pittsburgh” rather than typing just Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” I typed in “Early History of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania” that way I didn’t have to wade through a bunch of travel information relating to modern Pittsburgh.

Use Reliable Information

A lot of the information we can find on the internet is simply not true. Much of what is there is either opinion or is meant to sway us toward a specific way of thinking about a specific topic. Information on the internet is often sensationalized. Rumors can be toted as fact. Headlines can be purposely misleading to increase the article’s ability to go viral. How can we separate the truth from the sensationalism?

The most important consideration is to “consider the source”. Wikipedia is often a good place to start research, but it should never be the final authority regarding information that you find online. Most of the Wikipedia articles have good reference links to follow regarding the information provided in the article, and if there isn’t one, then the information might not be accurate.

Some of the best articles online come from government (.gov) or university sites (.edu) sites. (Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, then this information is suspect too.)  Organizations that specifically deal with your topic are also great resources. If I am dealing with a historical question, I might go to a historical site. I may even go to nongovernment and educational sites as well. For instance, if I am writing about a certain civil war battle, a great resource could be a re-enactor website where the re-enactors have included their research of the topic. Asking questions of the administrators on these sites are also possible.

First-hand  accounts recorded on the internet are also great resources. Many diaries of specific individuals, both famous and not-so-famous are available online. These first-hand accounts, however,  can be limited and speculative on the part of the eye-witness so therefore should never be considered the ultimate authority. I always look up at least three sources and try to include the eye witness account whenever possible and first-hand accounts offer depth that other sources cannot possibly offer. For instance, I used an eye-witness account of the Boston Tea Party when I wrote Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues. According to one of the participants of the incident, dressing as Mohawks was not planned ahead of time, but because some of the men were afraid they would be recognized, they covered their clothes with blankets and blackened their faces. Then someone said something like, “Hey, you look like a Mohawk.” The story then became that they dressed as Mohawks.

I Cut and Paste My Research into a Word Document

Once I found the information I want for my project, I have learned that it is important to record at least the part of the article where I found the information on a word document. Usually, I cut and paste the information and then get the URL for the website page where I found that information and paste that onto the document as well. This way I have a ready reference if someone questions my accuracy or I want to go back to that article to get more information that I didn’t feel that I needed right then, but then decided that I did. I find that this works so much better than bookmarking websites when all I want is a few lines of information from that website. I mark the document ORIGINAL RESEARCH so that I can idstinguish that information from my own writing based on that research.

This way too, I can do all of my research in just a short time. I can go online, find what I need for that day, record the information word for word and then go back later, mash up several different accounts of the same thing and incorporate it into my story and have that same information available for any other book or article that I want to write about the subject.

NEVER Plagiarize

Once I have cut and pasted my research into a document along with the URL, I open another document and rewrite the information that I obtained into my own words before including them in my fiction. When I add it to the actual story and in the case of the Separating Fact From Fiction Chapter at the end of the book, I pay careful attention, during the editing process., I edit the information even more to avoid any appearance of plagiarizing.

IMG_8330 final copy

As Author Cygnet Brown, Donna Brown  has  published  several nonfiction books including Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener, Using Diatomaceous Earth around the House and Yard, and Help from Kelp.

She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga,  Book IV of the Locket Saga: Sailing Under the Black Flag is also on sale now!

.For more information about Cygnet Brown and buy her books, check out her website at http://www.cygnetbrow.com .

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1 comment
  1. Great words of advice once again. Especially the plagiarism part….when did it become all right for writers to copy the works of others? Why are there some who think that is okay to do? I’ll never understand my fellow man.

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