Every writer needs to do research at some point. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a blogger, a nonfiction magazine or book writer, a short story writer, an online content creator or a novelist―sooner or later, you’ll have to do some research. Sometimes, it might only be research to find an agent, publisher or online platform for your work. Whatever the reason, we can all improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our research skills as our writing careers progress. And in the twenty-first century, you’ll probably do most of it online.
When my first nonfiction book was published over thirty years ago, online research was nonexistent. I had to do my research in the library, spending hours in indices to find the right citations followed by more hours combing through books, articles, and microfiche readers. Unfamiliar with microfiche? Oh, what you have missed.
Depending on what you write, you have to do more or less research. And that research these days is often (probably mostly) online.
If you write any kind of nonfiction, unless you’re writing stream-of-consciousness my-new-idea-is-genius-and-doesn’t-need-any-support, you need to do a lot of research. Or perhaps you write fantasy and are creating your own worlds. You could do it without any research, but you’d be short-changing yourself. (Which colours work best with orange hair and purple skin? You get the idea.)
If you write contemporary fiction, you might think you don’t need to do any content research. What about ideas for character names, car models (what year did they start making the VW Beetle, for example), or the weather in a particular city at a specific time of year?
And if you write any content for the online world, you need excellent online research skills.
Sometimes the research isn’t for the pieces you’re writing. Often it’s for all those other activities that writers are required to do just to have a writing career. I’m talking about finding publishers, agents and online publishing platforms. All of those require you to do research. So, as far as I’m concerned, writers need to consider how and why they do online research.
I have come up with five tips that might help you to improve your skills.
As I move forward in any piece of writing, I find myself doing upfront research before I begin, but I also find myself researching on the fly if you like. I don’t always know that I’ll need to know what kind of camera was popular in the mid-1960s when I start writing.