How to Use Research to Craft a Better Book

No matter your genre or subject matter, research is an inescapable aspect of writing your book—but if you loathe it, that’s quite understandable. Research can be nebulous, taking days, weeks, months, or years. You’re not always sure of what you’ll find and you don’t know the extent of its effect on your writing. Will it help you reach the finish line? Will it trap you in an endless labyrinth of musings? Will it undermine the project altogether?

With research, anything is possible. Here are things you should keep in mind during the research process to increase your chances of gathering useful information and crafting a better book.

Create a framework

As with every endeavor, the best thing you can do to ensure successful research is to set goals and timelines. But your research framework doesn’t have to be too complex. You can get started by answering the following questions:

  • What questions or topics do you need to look up?
  • How can you break each one into smaller items?
  • In what order should you research these items?
  • How much time can you allot to each item?

You should be able to come up with a checklist and a daily or weekly calendar.

manage your sources

Manage your sources

Write down anything and everything that you find. Not only will you need to access that information time and time again, but it might also have to be included in your book. For the nonfiction writer, a comprehensive list of sources is a must. Some fiction writers also list their sources as supplemental reading; it’s wonderful to come across an interesting fact you never thought you’d learn—why not pass that sense of wonder on to your readers?

Generally, sources can be classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. Knowing which is which can help you determine the materials that are appropriate for your book, as well as the time and effort you’ll require to track those materials down.

  • Primary
  • These sources show fresh information in the form of original thinking or first-hand records of events and discoveries. They usually don’t provide interpretation or commentary on the matter, nor do they explain terms and principles used, so you may need foundational knowledge on the subject

    • Original documents like diaries, manuscripts, autobiographies, letters, speeches, eyewitness accounts, interviews
    • Scholarly works like case studies, clinical reports, research articles, dissertations
    • Creative works like photos, videos, poems, musical arrangements, songs
  • Secondary
  • These sources describe, explain, analyze, and/or summarize primary resources. They will usually provide an overview of a topic and define terminology, history, and theories and principles in a manner that’s accessible to a broad audience.

    • Textbooks, biographies, literary criticism, book reviews
    • Political commentaries, reviews of law and legislation
    • News and magazine articles, documentaries, podcasts
  • Tertiary
  • These sources organize, compile, and/or digest primary and secondary sources. Some of them, like encyclopedias and bibliographies, can be viewed as secondary sources.

    • Dictionaries, encyclopedias, Wikipedia, almanacs
    • Bibliographies, indexes, abstracts
    • Directories, handbooks, manuals, guidebooks

Let the research lead you

As you're delving into your topic, the information you find might surprise you. Don't ignore anything; take advantage of this opportunity and follow the research to its natural conclusion. Keeping your mind open will help you produce a well-rounded book, even if it's not the book you originally envisioned writing.

  • Google
  • When Googling, you may want to prioritize .edu, .org, and .gov sites to ensure that you’re not using promotional copy or unofficial information. You can also use Street View to explore the world from the comforts of home.

  • Social media
  • Crowdsource your research on Facebook by making a public post with relevant keywords and hashtags. You can also search pages for companies, organizations, and institutions or join groups. Check their presence on Twitter as well; you’ll want to reach out on as many channels as you can. You should also consider searching LinkedIn for academics and industry professionals.

  • Legwork
  • Legwork is crucial when you need primary source materials. Visit your local library or any town’s library, or ask the public information desk of companies and organizations if they can recommend people you can talk to. Build a list of experts you might need to contact somewhere down the road.

be flexible

Be flexible yet disciplined

Whenever you hit a dead end, don’t despair—it’s only natural. And sometimes, the solution can be right under your nose. Ask your loved ones or colleagues if they happen to know anything about your topic or if they know someone who might be able to help. You can also look at your topic from another perspective and take your research in a different direction.

If the problem persists, you might be forcing something that’s never going to work. Return to your framework and revise it according to your findings, and set new timelines for further research. Above all, keep in mind that research is just one aspect of writing your book. Be careful not to get too immersed that you end up needlessly dumping highly specific or unrelated information on your readers.

Research reveals things that can affect your whole story. Invest the time and energy so that you lessen your chances of finding holes in your knowledge while making your outline or writing your book.

Of course, the need to do additional research well into the writing process or even during editing may still arise. If you’re not sure about the quality of your work, our in-house editors can help you pinpoint problematic areas and arrive at the proper solutions. Call 833.262.8899 to learn more.