Research: How Much I Have to Do and Why I Don’t Paraphrase

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Research is one of the most important subjects in my class Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The students often ask how much research you need to do. Unfortunately there isn't a magic number and a lot depends on your sources.

The assumption is often that if a piece is for younger readers or has fewer words then you use fewer sources. In my experience, that isn’t what is really important. For my book Ancient Maya (8th grade/15,000 words), I used 52 sources. For 12 Incredible Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis (3rd grade/3500 words), I used 43 sources. A huge difference in reading level and length but the number of sources is very similar.

What matters more than reader age or manuscript length is whether or not there are books on the subject. When I wrote Black Lives Matter (8th grade/15,000 words), there were no books for teens and almost nothing for adults on this topic. Because of this, I used 188 different sources including articles and court documents.

In my experience, what matters most is whether or not you can find books published on your topic. Several books can contain a lot of information. If there are no books in print, you are going to need a larger number of sources.

A few other research tips. Many of the articles I use are in PDF form from my local library. I save these in a computer file so I know exactly how the author worded whatever my editor wants to clarify.

Three is not a magic number. Many writers think that if they find a fact in three sources, it is true. Three sources that all rely on another inaccurate source for information can still be inaccurate. You need to find the source that is the least biased.

Research is never quick and easy. Just how much you have to do depends on your source material. A book can give you a lot more information than can the majority of articles. And keeping track of specific wording? That can be a real time saver when your writing is based on a large number of sources.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.


Sioux said...

Sue--I was quite interested in the number of sources you use when writing a book. I think just those numbers alone would get people to close their mouths when they're tempted to say, "Writing for kids is easy."

Thanks for the suggestion of saving pieces--when possible--in PDF form on a computer. That would save lots of time and prevent a few headaches, I imagine...

Mary Horner said...

The internet can be a great resource, but you have to be careful, like you said, about where the information is coming from. Reference librarians are like research assistants. Use their knowledge to help guide you in the right direction.

Virginia Rinkel said...
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