Writing: How to Research Subject Matter for a Book

It seems the old adage “write what you know” really doesn’t apply to me. I take on projects well out of my comfort zone. The subject

A small slice of my 43 folders I use for GTD t...

matter is such that I may know a little about it, or nothing at all. I like challenges. So, if you are like me and like to learn knew things and pass on that new knowledge to others, then you will have to become an excellent researcher!

Research: one dictionary defines research as: “careful or diligent search” or, my personal favorite, “the collecting of information about a particular subject.”

A researcher is like being a butterfly catcher. You may know where the facts are but they may be random and hard to catch. That is why  you need the proper tools to “catch” your facts, or information.

I find the internet to be a useful tool, however, it doesn’t always lead to accurate information. That is why cross-referencing (related information found elsewhere), or comparing notes with others is beneficial . The fastest approach is a Google search. The results can be overwhelming though, so choose wisely and selectively. Don’t let the research take you down a rabbit hole, so to speak.  It is very easy to get side-tracked into reading unrelated material and wind up wasting a ton of time.

Don’t let the internet be your only source of information. Books are a wonderful tool. Go to the library, or borrow the book from a friend. You never know what interests your friends have until you compare books!

Ask an expert. A personal interview is a great source of information. Make sure you have a recorder (I use my MP 3 player, but there

Sixty-One Writing Implements

are a lot of choices out there. Always have a pad of paper and a  comfortable writing implement (pen, pencil, marker, highlighter).

Another option is to take a class on the subject,or  join a group. For example, I wanted to know more about the history of my city. I didn’t just read a book on the subject, or look it up on the internet. I joined the historic society in my city and got involved. Now I assist with historical walking tours, and I attend programs where experts discuss historical subjects pertaining to my town. You can also join specific groups on Facebook or Linked In. You can join in their discussions or add what you may already know. Either way it’s a good place to ask others what they know and begin gathering information.

Good organization is a must. You will be gathering a lot of information from a lot of different places. Keep sticky notes handy, file folders or a bulletin board. (This is a feature I’m still working on!) When your notes are scattered about it makes the job more overwhelming than it needs to be!

When I first sit down to figure out where to start, I jot down every word on the subject that comes to mind. These words may not have anything to do with the subject, it is just my initial idea. I may scrap that line of thought later, but it gets me going in the right direction.

And don’t forget always take careful note of your sources. Those are the building blocks of your Bibliography.

My book, The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir, started from putting all these suggestions to use. I’m not an expert on the Holocaust, but my father-in-law, Joseph Kempler is a survivor. Who would know more about the Holocaust than someone who lived through it? I interviewed him, recorded his personal testimony, transcribed those recordings, then conducted an extensive research on the things he told me. I learned a lot about Poland, World War II, concentration camps, and ghettos. I also learned about the psychological damage inflicted on someone who lived through that horror, and how they relate (or not) to others.

Read sample chapters: Altered I Sample-April Kempler

To Pre-order click here.

You never know what will come out of your research, what will inspire you, or where it will lead.

Research can be fun, even addicting. That’s all I have to say. What do you think? Do you write only about what you know? Or, do you research a new subject? If so, what helpful tips have you discovered? I would love to know. Please share in the comments section of this blog.

Related article: Kitchen Timer  as a writing tool.

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One response to “Writing: How to Research Subject Matter for a Book

  1. I love to research. I have taken professional jobs that required me to research certain subjects and submit them to the firm who hired me. Not only did I enjoy writing but I really enjoyed learning about the subjects I was paid to research.

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