As I’ve mentioned before, I am the sort of writer who is intimidated by a new project. Many of you love the thrill of the first draft; I find starting something new to be hugely difficult. When I am working on a project that requires research, things can be doubly challenging. Not only do I have a story I need to discover, I have a topic I need to master as well.
There are many ways to go about research. Here’s what works for me:
- Google “your topic” and “books” to see what pops up. There will probably be hundreds of titles to wade through. Get an idea of what’s out there.
- Visit your library (on-line and in person). Even if your local branch doesn’t have what you need, approach a research librarian. They’re there to help with interlibrary loans, and the like. I’ve always found librarians more than happy to help.
- While you’re at the library, ask for a tutorial on your library’s on-line database. (Many of you might already know all about this; I did not). I was able to access several dozen articles relative to the Gypsies of Spain. The best part is, now that I understand the procedure, I can access it from home.
- Once you’ve found a book or two, look in the bibliography or appendix to find information about reputable websites, organizations, and other articles or books you might read.
- Don’t be afraid to approach experts in your field of interest. I e-mailed a professor at Tulane with some questions when working on OVER IN THE WETLANDS and most recently contacted the Gypsy Lore Society. Don’t feel you have to share all your credentials (or lack thereof). Simply state you are planning a book on your particular topic and ask a few questions. I have had very positive responses in both instances.
- Once you’ve built a list of books you’d like to work through, don’t forget sites like Swaptree.com, where you can trade books. Look for titles at Half.com or buy used from Amazon. This is especially helpful when you’re looking for titles that are out of print.
- Google your topic again, now that you have learned a bit and have more of a direction as to where you’d like your research to head. This way you can weed through what’s not relevant or what’s not accurate more quickly than when you’re just starting out.
- Let the research itself be a pleasure. Let it take you where it will. This will mean following rabbit trails at times. Enjoy it. Trust your story will come.