Note: Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my affiliate link. Read my full disclosure policy here.
Need Tips for Researching Your Novel?
Knowing what information you need
These first 5 tips are all going to be about knowing what information you need. If you know what you need to research before you start researching, then you know what you need and you aren’t wandering about the internet aimlessly. Think about it as if you want to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping goes much faster and more efficiently if, before you leave your house, you make note of all the groceries you need and put that on a list to take along with you to the store. The same thing goes for researching.
1. Create a list of questions to be answered later.
Create a list of relevant questions for yourself that you answer later in the researching process, but not yet! I know it may be tempting to just dive in immediately and start looking for answers. But my advice to you, get a list of questions first.
For an example, I am writing a book about the evacuation of London children during World War II. Here are some of the questions that would be on my list.
When did the evacuation of London children during WWII start and end?
- How were children during World War II evacuated from the cities?
- Where did the children evacuated from cities during WWII go?
- What did evacuee tags look like?
- Who was in charge of evacuating children during WWII?
The answers to these questions will be very important and helpful to me when I go to write my book. I will go into more detail about that later.
2. Make note of any random questions or thoughts.
My next tip for you is to make note of any questions, curiosities, or thoughts you may have at random. Maybe you are out somewhere running errands and you suddenly have a question about something related to the time period or place your book takes place in, such as what they would have eaten. Make a note, whether in a small notebook or in the notes app on your phone about that question or thought. That way, if you have master notebook at home in which you keep all of your research and questions, you can write down the new question in there later. Remember, every question, curiosity, and thought counts!
3. Look around you for inspiration
If you are having a hard time coming up with questions and things to research, then look around. As you go throughout your day, be on the lookout for questions. What kind of a bed would my character sleep in? What would they eat for breakfast? How would they use the bathroom? What would they do on their weekends?
See how questions can come from everyday life? They can be endless, so if you can’t find any questions to fill your list, then look around. Questions will come!
4. Keep your questions and notes organized
It is always a good idea to keep your questions and notes organized. You can do this by simply keeping everything in place, like a composition notebook or even a three-ring binder. If you want to be super organized with you questions, you can sort them into who, what, why, where, when, and how questions, but that isn’t necessary. Just keep them together.
5. Always be curious and don't dismiss any questions!
My last tip for you on this topic, is to always be curious, ask questions, and seek information. There is no such thing as a dumb question, or so they say, just dumb answers! Be curious and don’t dismiss questions!
Knowing where to find information & what to do with it
Once you have collected a list of questions and curiosities to answer, it is time to start researching. An important part in researching is knowing where to find the information that you need. If you know where to look, you will save yourself time and effort.
6. Determine where to find the answers to your questions
If you are writing something that requires a lo of research, then you are probably writing either historical fiction or non-fiction of some sort. Some of the best places to find information for either of the above genres are:
- national archives
- ancestry sites
- newspaper archives
- articles and blog posts on credible websites
- YouTube documentaries and informative videos
- historical fiction, resource novels, biographies, autobiographies, reference books & first-hand knowledge
If you are in fact writing historical fiction or non-fiction than some or even all of the above resources can be of use to you. Determine which ones you think will bring you the most information without wasting tons of time. Also find out which area of the above resources will of use to you, for example, if you choose to browse newspaper articles, make sure you know what area and time period you are looking for before beginning browsing.
7. Take plenty of clear, detailed, & legible notes
As you are coming across useful and interesting information, be sure to take plenty of clear, detailed and most importantly, legible notes. If you can’t read your own notes, they are useless!
8. Keep your notes organized and easy to find
Make sure you have a method of taking notes and organizing them so that they will be easy to find and reference later on. You could simply use a composition notebook and randomly write your notes in there, or you could create sections in the notebook for different types of notes, rather like a writing journal.
If you plan on doing a lot of research, a three-ring binder might be a good idea. You can use clear sheets, page dividers, and lined paper with a binder. This also gives you the option to print images and documents to keep in a clear sheet in the binder.
It’s up to you how you want to take notes, and where you want to store them. Just be sure to take clear notes and organize them in an easy-to-find manner and be creative!
9. Save pictures, documents, & newspaper clippings
My next piece of advice is don’t be afraid to save relevant picture, documents, and newspaper clipping to reference later on. Just be sure you aren’t violating any copyright terms.
Most things that are significantly old, such as picture are typically in the public domain, meaning that you can save and print them without worry. If you aren’t sure about a certain image or document, you can always bookmark the page you found it on in your browser.
Having old photographs, documents and newspaper clippings to reference while writing your novel can be a very helpful thing. As I mentioned above, you can store them in a binder or notebook for easy reference.
10. Ask questions and find answers!
This is the most important tip. Always ask questions, be curious, and find answers! You might be surprised by what you find out, and when you are well informed before you start writing, it really shows. Your readers will be able to tell that you know what you are talking about and that you took the time to research properly and thoroughly, making your look more professional.
How can research help with writing?
Just to sum everything up, I am going to give you a few examples of questions and then answers that where found through research, all put together into a piece of writing, using the questions I showed you in the example at the beginning of this post.
When did the evacuation of London children during WWII start and end?
The answer to this question is that Operation Pied Piper (the official name of the child evacuation program during WWII) started on September 1, 1939 and ended in March 1946.
This answer gives me a general timeline in which my book can be set. Anytime before September 1939 or after March 1946 would make no sense. It is also good to know that though many children were evacuated at the beginning of the war, many of them came home soon after, and had to be evacuated a second time later on during the war.
How were children during World War II evacuated from the cities?
Children were typically evacuated through their school, so they would have been transported with their classmates in trains travelling into the countryside.
The answer to this question will help me to paint a scene for my readers.
Imagine a crowded train platform. The sound of a steam engine fills the air as it is being prepared for another journey across the country. Above the loud sounds of the train, teachers and wardens can be heard attempting to give orders and instructions to a crowd of children of all ages. The children are shuffling, packed close together on the platform, all of them frightened, some crying, other merely standing still. Suddenly, they are all being directed and shoved into train cars and told to sit still and be quiet. After a while, a shrill whistle fills the air, and they can feel the train slowly pulling out of the station and taking them far away from home to a stranger’s house in the countryside.
Bonus Tip: Read, read, & read some more!
My very last tip for you, when conducting research for a novel is to read like crazy. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a historical fiction book that is set during world war II or if you are writing a sci-fi story that takes place on another planet in the future. Either way, reading can help by giving you more information about a certain place or time period, while also giving you inspiration.
Just make sure that you aren’t copying someone else’s story. As the 1980’s sitcom star ALF says ‘copying is the purest form of plagerism.’
If you have read this far into the post, then thank you! I realize that this post has been somewhat lengthy and full of information, however, I hope it helps you in your novel writing endeavors. I know first hand that writing a book isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time and hard work, but believe me when I tell you, when you have a fully finished, published book in your hands, it is all worth it. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment. I encourage you to keep writing and working hard. It will be worth all the hard work you put into it!
Happy Reading & Writing!