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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Some Research Recommendations

After writing my book, I moved my notes
and printouts into this sturdy file box.
Photo Credit | Elizabeth Humphrey
In one of my previous WOW! The Muffin posts, Elizabeth McBride asked:
"Please talk to us about the research process, when it is necessary to use primary sources, and when one can use secondary (or even more distant) sources. I would love to hear about how you kept yourself organized in that process and determined how and when you had enough sources (depth) as well as a broad enough exposure of the topic to cover it all satisfactorily. I tend to go farther than necessary and I'd like to hear someone else's thinking on these topics. Thank you!"
Primary sources? 

Yes. In the book that I was writing I used a number of different sources. When there were areas that I felt out of my depth, I researched as much as I could and, at the same time I tried to locate approachable sources. So, in researching nutrition, I would spread my net wide (within my subject of gluten-free eating) and try to pinpoint the knowledgeable folks to talk to so my knowledge would increase. My primary sources were people I would interview, but I would also read blogs to get a good sense of any trends.

Secondary sources?

Yes, I used a number of secondary sources. I started, oddly, with my cookbooks to see if there were any sources that they relied on to create their food philosophy--or what drove them to write the book they did. I definitely used a lot of books, books, books! (The library and bookstore were both my close friends during the research period.)

I didn't need to delve into much murkier waters than books and journals for the information I needed, which was fortunate as there were times when I felt I was swimming in information.

Some other ways I researched and the tools I used:
  • I also accessed a lot of websites for organizations and used Evernote to keep those notes and resources straight.
  • I set up a Google Alert and that helped to keep me current, especially when an FDA rule was approved during the author review period.
  • As an alumna of a university, I can research using their online library resources--for free.
  • I carried around a notebook designated for the book. I would take notes or clip articles and file them away.
  • I started a notebook that was numbered with each chapter number and filed information specific to that chapter for easy access.
When it comes to research I think we all fear that we've gone too far. But I don't know any other way because how do I know what's too far until I've left the research and moved into the writing.

One example, sometimes you input information that your editor will feel was covered enough in another section or, as sometimes happens, is not the direction she wants the book to go. So, if you hadn't done that research, you might never have gone down that path. But you felt it was important at the time you were writing it.

I'm in the middle of the author review period and still having a blast.

Any other questions about the process? I'm happy to answer. If not, then next time I'll jump off into another writing topic.

Do you have anything to add to what you use to help you research?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor in North Carolina. She recently enjoyed a tech-free kayak trip, which she plans to repeat periodically to help unplug!


  1. Thank you so much! This was exactly what I was looking for. Your notebook that is numbered for each chapter is a great idea. It made me think of the expanding file bags, which could be used with individual folders for each chapter as well. Thank you so much for your very helpful response!

    Elizabeth McBride

  2. Thanks for your tips. I am teaching a non-credit course at a university on research, and I will add some of your ideas! :)


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