Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Online Research: 5 tips for improving your skills

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.

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Proofreading: 5 tips to improve the thing you hate the most

Maybe you’re one, but I don’t know a single writer who enjoys proofreading their work. It’s that absolute final step that comes hot on the heels of copyediting but is even pickier. And it’s so crucial to the final product.

What is it about proofreading that we all dislike so much? For me, it’ soften because it means that I can’t be writing somethgin new―exercising my imagination. It is true that proofreading isn’t all that creative, don’t you agree? Still, we have to do it.

Some writing gurus seem to think that we shouldn’t even try to edit our own work. While I agree that we do develop blinders, often failing to see a whole swath of errors that look right to us, I still think we have to do much of it ourselves. Of course, when it comes to a project like a book, you’ll need a final copyeditor and proofreader in the end. But what about all that other stuff you write? Book blurbs, your bio, your blog posts, query letters? You need to copyedit them yourself.

There’s hardly a news story, magazine article, blog post (!) or book these days that doesn’t bear at least one typo or punctuation error, and don’t we all hate them when we see them―especially in our own work. So, before you can send anything out to editors or readers, proofreading isn’t an option. And there are a few tips and tricks to make yours better (and maybe even easier) that I’ve learned over my thirty-plus years of writing.

So, proofreading is important no matter whether you write books, business reports, advertising copy, social media content, or magazine stories.

If you have five minutes, I have five tips that might help to improve your proofreading.

Posted in Nonfiction Writing, Writing craft

5 tips to improve your nonfiction writing

When I was a teenager, I had dreams of being a novelist. When I was in Grade Eleven, my high school offered us the chance to do an extra project in a subject of our choice. If completed adequately, this project would provide for the notation of “with distinction” to be added to our grade transcripts. That seemed like a good idea to me since I’d be applying to university the following year. Having an area of “distinction” couldn’t hurt.

The problem was that I chose to do this project in English rather than math or science because I fancied myself a writer. What’s the problem, you might well ask? It’s this: my highest marks were in math and science, and I planned to study science in university. Go figure. Anyway, I did the project, part of which required me to write five short stories. Fast forward past my Master’s degree (in science), and you find me a bona fide nonfiction writer.

Thirty years later, I find myself writing both fiction and nonfiction. What this cross-genre writing does for me is to provide me with a breadth of techniques and ideas, each genre benefiting from the other. So, last week I was thinking about nonfiction writing and how often every writer, regardless of genre, needs to know nonfiction techniques.

Everyone writes nonfiction every once in a while. Even novelists have to write their author bios and the occasional book cover copy. Publishers expect it (so do readers, by the way).

This week’s 5 tips are all about improving our nonfiction writing.