Tuesday, September 19, 2017

5 Tips for Developing Research Techniques

This past week researching has been on my mind for a number of reasons. First of all I am working on a project dealing with a Native American leader that requires research, plus I was teaching a class on how writers can conduct research for their books. To add to the mix, our weekly publisher's chat was also on research and the best way to do it. That made me want to do my own research. Who better to ask than a group of published authors so I began asking around. 

What was the first thing I learned about research?  Nearly everyone starts with the internet because it is so simple and such an obvious place. The danger? False information or incomplete information. The historical editor who led our publisher's chat was quick to tell us we needed to double check anything we learned through internet research. I've blogged on conducting research in the past and warned about the dangers of accepting everything you might find on the internet. So how can you become a better researcher?

 So where else can we look?

1. Look for experts.  Now this is a place where internet research can help. By going through articles or researching websites you can find experts that you can either try to contact or look for their books on your subject. Look for experts who might be nearby who  you might be able to interview personally. 

2. Search out programs or lectures that might feature what you want to write about.  For things like mythology or history, that might mean a trip to a local museum. But don't simply visit it. Keep an eye out for experts at the location who might be able to either answer your questions or point you in the right direction. As one writer told me, "you have to really want to get to know a subject if you're writing about it," so always be on the look out for programs on subjects you might want to tackle in the future.
3.  Visit the location.  I can't stress this one enough.  My last blog I did on research was about my visit to Bent's Old Fort to see how the trappers and traders lived. There is no better way to learn about someone than to walk in their shoes and being inside the cramped quarters and seeing the actual items that were used back then made it easier for me to write about them. Last week I visited the burial place of Chipeta, a Ute leader who worked tirelessly for peace for her people even as their lands were taken away. Sitting in the quiet evening breeze, listening to the silence and enjoying the peace of the afternoon could really speak volumes that simply reading about her wouldn't have given me.

4. Libraries and museums. These are often forgotten treasures that can also take you back in history and give a better sense of life in the past. But don't forget science museums and planetariums where you can learn about the stars and space travel. And for certain, ask questions of the guides, or get information on experts you might be able to call.

5. Keep a list of everyone and everything you learn, and don't hesitate to get cards from people so you can call them later if you're unable to talk to them while you are at the museum.  Build a file and hold onto the information. You never know when you might want to go back to that person for more details for your story.

Mainly, you need to keep digging. Every subject has its experts, but don't simply call or try to interview someone without any sort of plan. Come up with a list of preliminary questions you can ask so you don't have to try to think of them on the spur of the moment. Plan in advance and then conduct your research in a professional manner. You are a professional. You're a writer!

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