Research: How Much Is Enough?

Research. You need as much as you need.
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“Just how much research do you need to do?” While I often get this question from my students, it doesn’t have any easy answer.

Many people assume that it depends on the length of the project. Not really. A 500-word magazine piece can have as many sources as a book for 3rd graders. A picture book can have as many sources as a nonfiction title for teens.

A lot depends on what you are finding in each source. Sometimes I’m looking for a very specific fact. Since I often write about current events, news sources can tell me what someone was charged with. But when it comes time to reveal whether or not the person was convicted? There is seldom less reporting on the verdict especially if it is innocent. But that also means that when I find that key source, I may be using it for only one fact. Lot’s of sources that reveal specific facts result in pages and pages of bibliography.

This doesn’t mean that if you find a source with a lot of information that you can use, you should use only that one source. You don’t want to duplicate someone else’s writing in your own work. That is why you need to find your own slant and additional sources.

You don’t need to find a magical number of sources. Three sources per fact? Five sources per manuscript page? Pffft.

What you do need to find is enough. Enough to tell the story. Enough to back up your facts. Enough to know more than you are revealing in your story.

For a how-to with a brief introduction, you may need only two or three sources. For a teen nonfiction title you may need 400. You probably won’t know until you are done. Because no matter how much research you do, as you write you will discover that there is something you still don’t know. And off you go in search of another fact.

To find out more about doing your own research, check out my WOW! Women on Writing class, Reseach: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.