How to Add Research for Your Next Book Project

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Whether your next book is a cutting-edge cookbook, historical fiction, or anything in between, it’s vital that you add research in books so that the information inside is accurate. After all, if you miscategorize key ingredients as gluten-free when they’re actually not, you could lose legitimacy — and place readers with allergies at risk. And if your WWII novel gets dates and locations of key battles wrong, who will take the rest of your story seriously? Regardless of the topic, researching your next book may seem daunting, but there are tried and true strategies and tips to help you get started doing it right. Read on for more.

Planning your research

The more organized you are at the very beginning, the easier your work will be. Important steps include:

Defining your research goals

The first step in learning how to write a book and research it is to focus on what exactly you’re hoping to accomplish through your book research. For that WWII novel, for example, figure out what information about military events, political decisions, cultural shifts, public attitudes, technological developments, international relations, etc. will give you the context you need to be convincingly creative within a historically accurate context.

Will details of the former Kaiser’s attitude towards the war give you background and inspiration you need — or will info on 1940s German household cuisine help you write a stunningly intimate scene that makes readers really feel like they’re there? Narrow down your goals as much as possible, write them down, and push forward from there.

Creating a research plan

Follow these steps to make your research as efficient and effective as possible:

  • As per the above, focus in on exactly what you want your research to reveal.
  • Brainstorm potential sources, such as websites, books, public records, movies, interviews, and beyond.
  • Set a timeline to keep yourself on track.
  • Regularly revisit your original goals and objectives to make sure you’re staying focused and efficient.

Collecting research

Your plan is solid, so it’s time to put on your detective’s hat and start digging. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. The Library of Congress offers these definitions:

  • A primary source is a firsthand record of an event or topic created by a participant in (or a witness to) that event or topic. Primary sources can be a document, letter, eye-witness account, diary, article, book, recording, statistical data, manuscript, or art object. Primary sources vary by discipline and provide an original source of information about an era or event. Although primary sources can include firsthand accounts that were documented later, such as memoirs or oral histories, primary sources created or written closest to the time of the actual event are considered to be the most useful sources for research purposes.
  • A secondary source is secondhand information written or created after an event. Secondary sources may summarize, interpret, review, or criticize existing events or works. Secondary sources were written or created after an event by people who were not at the original event. Secondary sources can be many formats including books, literature review articles, encyclopedias, textbooks, or a scholar’s interpretation of past events or conditions.

Both primary and secondary sources can be hugely helpful in your research, so be sure to look in both directions. Speaking of which:

Explore possible sources

There are all sorts of resources, both primary and secondary, that you can leverage for your research. Are there great, reputable books or research articles written about your topic of choice, or well-regarded and peer-reviewed academic journals? What about interviews conducted by yourself or others, things you’ve personally observed or learned via other people’s firsthand observations, that you think you can trust?

Credibility is a key facet of any research project, particularly in the age of AI and digital misinformation, so triple-check the sources of any information you’re relying on. Does the information itself seem authentic, and is there any dependable way to verify it? Are there reputable experts in the field you can check with if you’re unsure? Most importantly, what does your gut say? You won’t always be able to tell fact from fiction when it comes to doing research, but the more mindful and rigorous you are when it comes to vetting your sources, the better your chances of accuracy and success.

Organizing your research

Even the most thorough prior research won’t mean anything unless you know how and where to find what you need amidst the piles of info you gather. Here are tips to help you get your data ducks in a row:

Digital tools and software

Some writers prefer to do all their research within a single document (with lots of headings and reference points, of course) while others create a folder and fill it with smaller documents that each contain information on a specific topic.

Spreadsheets are also a straightforward way of organizing data and being able to manipulate it easily. And dedicated writing apps like Scrivener have loyal followings amongst writers who use it both for crafting prose and organizing the research that informs it.

Finally, new apps are being developed every day that can help writers organize and access research, so don’t hesitate to look and see which tools resonate with you.

Note-taking strategies

Recording your results as you perform your literature research process is super important, and again, different strategies work for different writers.

Best practices include making sure to properly cite any source you’re gathering information from, so you can credit the previous studies properly and locate it again easily if you need to. Sometimes it can help to come up with shorthand notes for frequently used sources, so you can quickly jot down information without breaking your flow.

As you take notes, make sure to indicate which part of each research tidbit you find is the most important so you can easily locate it when it’s time to look back. Even something as simple as bolding or underlining key info can do the trick.

Also, consider keeping a simple voice recorder or voice memo app handy, so you can talk through nuances of your research that might get otherwise lost in the note-taking process.

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Analyzing and interpreting research

Research is about more than gathering information — it’s about understanding it and knowing how to use it. Key steps include:

Critically analyzing your sources

How credible is the source you’re looking at? Does it seem like it was generated by one or more humans who know what they’re talking about, or is it more likely something slapped together by a troll, bot, or AI engine?

Does the source stink of bias, and is that bias distorting the reliability of the facts therein? What are the limitations of the information presented, and do the conclusions drawn exceed those boundaries?

Remember to stay as objective as possible when you’re interpreting your research findings, keep in mind any biases and limitations you see, and be sure to gather multiple perspectives on any given issue or event before drawing your own conclusions.

Integrating research into your narrative

Once you’ve gathered the information you want and interpreted it as needed, it’s time to weave that knowledge into your narrative. The biggest tip here? Don’t overdo. Much research in fiction writing is done to give you, the writer, context in which to imagine a compelling story — and your hard work will show in subtle ways. Some writers can get away with throwing in paragraphs or pages of obvious, research-based exposition, but many others shouldn’t even try. Throw in a few facts or details every here and there, however it feels organic and not contrived. Remember that a little goes a long way.

Researching to gain insight for sequels

Research can help you craft a great book. It can also help you set yourself up for the next one. With the right kind of research, you can learn:

  • What readers enjoyed most about your first book
  • What they didn’t love so much
  • What they wanted more of
  • Which plot twists, characters, or settings were the most memorable

How do you get these insights? Cultivate firsthand sources by eliciting feedback via social media, mailing lists, personal emails, or in-person conversations. Encourage anyone you’re talking with to be brutally honest, as straight talk will be the most helpful in the long run. If you’re lucky enough to get reviews, peruse those as well.

Finalizing your research-driven book

You’ve done the legwork — and the creative work — so now it’s time to review, polish, and share your writing with the world.

Editing and proofreading

Thorough editing and proofreading is essential to ensure the accuracy and coherence of the research-driven content within your book. Especially after investing time and effort into gathering and interpreting information, it’d be a shame for your work to be sabotaged by a typo. For help with a book review to comb through your writing and fixing even the smallest errors, check out BookBaby’s book editing services.

Publishing and distributing

Many authors will pursue traditional strategies like querying agents and trying to land a book deal with an established publishing house. And while this avenue certainly has its advantages, it can take a long time, and require tons of effort to even locate an agent who will have a conversation with you. Plus, you cede a lot of control (and profit) when you sign on with a publishing house. This makes learning how to self-publish a more attractive option.

BookBaby’s self-publishing universe can help you keep control and revenue, and publish your book when you’re ready to share it with the world — not when some big company feels like it.

BookBaby can also help you make your self-published book look clean, professional, and attractive to your target readers through custom book printing and book formatting.

Ready to self-publish your research-driven book?

Whenever you’re ready, your friends at BookBaby are here to help you through every step of the journey.

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