Research: How Much Is Enough

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“How much research do you need to do when you write a book?” This seems to be one of the most common questions that I get an a nonfiction author. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any easy answer.

Many people assume that it depends on the length of the project. Sometimes it does but 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. What date was X invented? What exactly did building Y require? I find myself pulling up manuals to check copyright dates and parts lists.

For some projects, much of my research is in book form. That’s always a relief because I can often find several page of useful information. But even then I need to havemore than one source.

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

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.

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. No, that isn’t an exageration. When every page has three or four unique sources, they add up fast. I am currently writing a nonfiction title for teens. I just finished roughing Chapter 5 and I currently have 118 sources. With four more chapters to go, I’ll likely have at least 200.

You probably won’t know how many your are going to have 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.


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