Harvesting the Most From Your Research by Michelle Boule
I love research. I loved research so much that I became an academic librarian. As a writer, I am able to indulge my love of research often, but I know many of you shudder at even beginning this endeavor. I think that most people who shy away from delving too deeply into rows and rows of information are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what is available and then have no ideas about how to organize it.
Today, I want to talk about how to go from very broad research to more specific research and how to keep track of it all.
Low Hanging Fruit
The internet is a great place to start, though it should not be the only place you end up. Don’t scoff, but Wikipedia is actually a wonderful place to begin to get a feel for a topic, a person, or even a place. Most of the pictures used on Wikipedia are in the public domain (which means you can use them freely on your blog/FB/etc.) or under Creative Commons (which means you can use them with some restrictions). At the bottom of every Wikipedia article, there are references for the article. These references link back to books, articles, websites, audio recordings, and primary sources that you can explore to further your research.
Cream of the Crop
You may be looking for something a little different or specific. Here are some places you may not have thought to look.
Local Archives – Most large cities and counties have an archive, usually housed in a regional library branch. These archives, also called Special Collections, contain papers from famous people in the region, historical photos and documents, maps, local newspapers, film, and genealogical information for the area. These collections are usually open to the public, though some collections may require appointments or supervision. If you are writing a historical or contemporary set in a particular region or city, I think it’s time for a research road trip..
University and College Libraries – The research collections of state and local colleges are open to the public. Some libraries will allow you to borrow a small amount of books with a card from another local library. Academic libraries and some very large public libraries provide access to databases of articles and historical documents from every discipline. Always ask a librarian for help. It’s their job and I guarantee they will be excited to point you in the right direction for that random fact you need for your WIP.
Marking Your Rows
Before you start on any research project, small or large, you need to find a way to organize it that works for you. You need to be able to find the information quickly and be able to go back the source in the event you have questions or find contradictory evidence elsewhere. This means, if you are taking notes by hand or typing notes, you need to write down the source and author of the information. If you are very particular, you can indicate the page number as well. When you are finished with your research, you can put the pages into the series Bible I know you already created or keep them with your notes for your book. Typewritten research notes can be saved and searched (using Ctrl+f).
If you are doing mostly online research, there are free tools to help you aggregate the data. My two favorite are Diigo and Evernote. Diigo can be used on any device and will save your notes, bookmarks, and highlights across all your devices. This is extremely handy if you bounce around on different computers and a mobile device. Evernote allows you to snip web articles, annotate pictures you take, bookmark things, make lists, share items with others, can also be used on any device, and saves your work across all devices. Evernote is a bit more slick and versatile than Diigo, but they both have the capacity to change how you save and annotate information.
Don’t Get Lost in the Weeds
One last thing. Research is an amazing adventure, but don’t get so far down a rabbit hole that you forget your purpose which is to apply that research to writing.
Blurb for Letters in the Snow:
Iris is a simple postmistress in the small town of Turning Creek, Colorado. Simple, except for being a descendant of a Greek myth, having a pair of golden wings, and possessing the ability to speak prophecy. She has had her hands so full guiding the harpies towards their destinies that she has forgotten to seek out her own.
A mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer begins a correspondence that weaves itself into Iris’s heart and awakens a longing for a love of her own. The letters keep arriving, and Iris is increasingly more aware of the charms of Jacob Wells, a newcomer to Turning Creek. She wonders if the letters are from him. But even with Jacob’s charisma and the lure of a new relationship, Iris discovers the heart can’t be contained, and that her heart’s desire might be for someone who was there all along.
Unfortunately for Iris, the letters and the resulting affairs of the heart are not the only perplexing things happening in Turning Creek. Something more than nature is burying the town in a deadly winter blanket, and a closely guarded secret that will change Turning Creek forever is revealed.
More About the Author:
Michelle Boule has been, at various times, a librarian, a bookstore clerk, an administrative assistant, a wife, a mother, a writer, and a dreamer trying to change the world. Michelle writes the historical fantasy series Turning Creek. The third book in the series, Letters in the Snow, is out today.