The Art of Research

Saturday, August 09, 2008


The art of writing the perfect book takes time, patience and the best research. No matter how small the topic, we always have to do some form of research. But, did you know that research in itself can be an art? I know I must be eating way to many cookies. But, its true. It takes lots of time and diligence to find the perfect information for your story or article. That could mean hours of looking through books, magazines, the web and more.

The first step to the art of research is getting yourself organized. I have to admit I can be one of the most disorganized people around, although many people may tell you differently when they look around my home or even my business. (pssst, I'm a closet disorganized person)

My first suggestion is to find yourself a few spiral notebooks, they are inexpensive and work great to hold all of your research. Your best bet is to get one that is multiple subject so that you can organize by subject. For example, I have a notebook that is all about different varities of trees. From the Cypress to the Red Oak, I believe I even have a section for a Sycamore tree.

If you are going to be writing down notes on your subject, I highly recommend using a good ol' pencil, that way you can erase, fix your errors, etc.

Now time to get to the fun. Researching. With the technologies of today I start with my first and easiest access point for research the World Wide Web. There are great search engines available to us all, as many of you can attest I am sure you have been hard nosed google users for years, but did you know about the following search engines that are available to you?

  • Ask- This website looks on a narrower prospect. This company wants to get as close as possible to the subject you are researching.
  • Monster Crawler- Website actually does a piggyback technique onto other search engines such as google, yahoo, msn search. It will pull from their databases to provide you with the information you might be looking for.
  • Dogpile combines the best of all worlds. Dogpile will pull information from the different search engines. It also had toolbars, a special search engine that is placed on your desktop for quick searches and more. Each day, Dogpile has different quick searches that it can and will do for you. It's a neat site, fun to play with, but does help with comprehensive searches as well.
  • Alta Vista This search engine is great if you are searching in different languages. You can actually choose the language you wish to search in. You are also given the option to look up Audio and MP3 files. This search engine is quite multi-task friendly as well.

I don't want to overwhelm you just on search engines for the internet, I know that can be a lot in itself. But, there are also people search engines, there are geneology search engines.

Now onto the next realm of research. Our wonderful libraries. These are still the heart of the art of research. So many times, we can still find the older and more historical books that can and will be quite helpful to us all when you are searching for specific pieces of history. I actually took a look at one of my son's history book and was just shocked at how much history had been cut out of their books. The fall of Rome, it was only mentioned as a side note, hello! This was a huge part of history. There's a lot of information there. After shaking my head, I remembered one of my favorite places to go and do my research. I was glad that my old reliable was still very reliable for the information that I wanted to compile. So again, notebook in hand, the one on the subject of course, I begin to do my normal routine.

  • Card catalog- great to look by subject to see what they have available and today, if your local library doesn't have it but one in your district or nearby town does, they can have the book transferred over for your convenience. How about that for a gas saver for you. In some cases it may cost a couple of dollars, but it will save you sitting in traffic burning up a bunch of gas.
  • The reference section is a wonderful source of information, today you can still find many encyclopedia sets, up to date reference information on many subjects, from medications to even running shoes. Don't laugh I found a huge reference book at my local library on running shoes. Every type you can possibly imagine. Unfortunately, reference books can't always be shared by libraries. Check with your local librarian to see if they might transfer books specifically reference between them.
  • Periodicals are a great way to find current information, from the local news paper to the latest magazine, you can find hundreds that are kept through out your library. Many libraries archive these up to several years worth. Ask your librarian how many years their archives go back. You library will also have several different newspapers, not just the local paper, you can probably even find some that is still kept on microfilms, etc. Many libraries have now turned to having them on a special computer though.

When you actually start to take notes there are several methods to use. I always seem to go back to the old reliable, the one our teachers taught us so many years ago. The wonderful outline, just remember, you can expand the outline with a few extra notes if you want to make sure certain parts of your subject stand out. The old reliable works great to help keep your notes organized. Here is an example of one:

  1. Pineapples
    1. Grown in South America, the Hawaiian Islands, Australia
      1. Many plantations found on the island of Oahu
        1. Visitors can tour one of the biggest plantations ran by the Dole company
          1. Dole is a large manufacturer of canned fruits and vegetables.
  2. Varieties of Pineapples

As you can see, for each part of your subject you can expand, add as much or a little information as you need. The old reliable is quite handy for that.

Then again if you get in a rush like I do some times, just keep organized paragraphs, and remember you don't have to write down every little detail. Just make sure you catch the ones that are really important to your subject.

One last tip for you and then I will stop babbling. If you find yourself with a lot of notebooks and want to make sure you keep them well organized. You might want to invest in some large bins to keep them in, you can then mark them by subject matter, etc. I have a friend that actually goes one step further, she has taken a small recipe box and some 3x5 cards and has colored organized her collection of notes. Then when she begins a new story idea or article, she goes to her box, checks to see if she has taken notes on the particular subject before.

When it comes to doing the research, just be sure you capture as much information as you can that would help with your story. Learn your subject well. It will show in your story or article that you have taken the time to do the research and that you understand what you are talking about.

Happy Writing Everyone!


Anonymous said...

Your article is great, so please forgive the nitpickyness, but for better organization shouldn't outlines - even ones for notes - alternate numbers and words? Like this: (the comment section won't let me indent)

1. Pineapples

A. Grown in South America, the Hawaiian Islands, Australia

1. Many plantations found on the island of Oahu

A. Visitors can tour one of the biggest plantations ran by the Dole company

1. Dole is a large manufacturer of canned fruits and vegetables.

Unknown said...

Hi Patty,

I do apologize. When I posted my article this morning, the computer and the link went "wonky" I'm not sure why it did that. I will edit it, to make it appear right, provided it will take my edits. You never know, these computer things can be tricky.

Thanks for pointing out the error I appreciate it.

I probably looked at it twice after I published it and didn't realize what happened.

Happy Writing!

Anonymous said...

No problem at all, I do things like that all the time. For example, I looked over my comment at least five times and I didn't see that I said "numbers and words" instead of numbers and letters until I had already submitted the darn thing!

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