[found on howtoplanwriteanddevelopabook.blogspot.com; by Mary Carroll Moore]
“A children’s book writer sent me the following question: “I am interested in writing a non fiction book for 11-18 year olds and wanted to know how to go about preparing myself to do the research for the book efficiently?” This writer had a timeline for her book and wanted to complete it by the beginning of December.
Research is both a blessing and a bane for the book writer. It’s very easy to research now that the world is at our fingertips via the Internet.
But this wealth of resources also poses a serious side tracking problem: How can you really tell when you’re researching and when you’re just avoiding writing?
I love to research. I worked as an editor for a small press for 18 years and was constantly being asked to research this or that fact from different authors’ books. I knew how to get online and sail through the mediocre listings into the really meaty facts. I became good friends (via phone) with several reference librarians at my local library–always a good call to make when stumped by the various options on the Internet. Librarians (mostly) love research and they are there to help.
But often I found myself cruising from one article to the next, opening more layers of links, and finding it hard to actually come back to the writing I was supposed to be working on.
Since someone was paying me to get the editing done, and I was under a deadline, I always forced myself away from the research eventually. But when you’re writing your book, you may not have this outer-imposed structure. You may be your only boss, creating your own timeline, as my reader above is. How do you stay efficient with research and still get your book done?
For the reader who wrote me the question for this post, as someone writing a book for a certain age group, you really need to know your audience well. What language do these readers prefer? They may be much more sophisticated readers than you were at that age, or they may not be. What do they learn in school–and is your topic too sophisticated or way to basic for them?
And if you’re delivering a certain topic and need scientific, cultural, political, or historical data, you need to translate what you research into wording that kids would understand, crafting your writing to lead them point by point through the material.
Historical facts are also important to get right. Watch out for the Internet on this one. When I was a professional editor at the small press in the Midwest, we rarely accepted the first or even fifth Internet mention of a fact as truth. It took lots of browsing and comparing notes from different sites. If a fact was repeated frequently, then it was more likely true. But I collected a list of my favorite fact-checking sites that seemed reliable, and they were the ones I visited most often. University research sites, library databases, and reputable publications online were the ones I leaned on most–and I strictly avoided the chats, blogs, and personal opinion posts that could be just that.
3. Make notes to remind you where you were, so you can return easily.
4. Look over the research notes you’ve made. Take a highlighter and underline sections that might be useful to inform a chapter, character, or focus of your book.”