Research: Vital for Both Nonfiction and Fiction

One of my writing pals and I joke about our research. Her summer reading pile is stacked around the television on her credenza. She has books on angels and demons, bigfoot, black-eyed children, Ouija boards, sleep paralysis, cannibalism, Gobekli Tepe, Akan funeral dirges, witchcraft in Ghana, fairies, and poltergeists.

Research is part of the writer’s life.
Photo by Christina Morillo on

Next to her, I look like a bit of a slacker. I’m researching mountain lions, black cats, prickly pear, napoles, astronauts, and space flight. Of course, she teaches at a local university and has to get her reading done over the next 6 weeks.

A lot of people think that you have to do more research for nonfiction than fiction. I don’t know about that. As a nonfiction writer, the amount of research I do varies from topic to topic with some books requiring almost 200 sources and others only 75.

But my research into black cats, napoles, prickly pear, astronauts, and space flight are all for fiction. One book is about a cat. Another involves prickly pear and napoles. Still another includes space flight.

Just how much research you need to do is going to vary based on your topic, the length of the piece you are writing, and the nature of your sources. What do I mean?

A contemporary picture book about a child preparing for a holiday event at school may require research into the various holidays currently celebrated in schools. The nature of the celebrations would also be researched.

A picture book about an immigrant child in the 1950s seeing the department store Christmas windows for the first time would require photo research. You’d need to know what 1950s holiday displays looked like – I’m assuming that they were even a thing. But you would also need to know what types of store window displays might be found in other countries.

A craft write-up about making something that would appear in such a display would require relatively little research.

A young adult book about a teen immigrant in the 1950s would require even more research about the holiday, teen fashions, and school events, studies, and teen jobs.

If you were to luck into a source with a great deal of information, you might not have to find many additional sources. But the teen piece would likely require more research than the picture book, but maybe not. Shorter pieces often have just as much information. It is simply presented in a different way.

Really, there is no easy answer to how much research you need to do. Yes, it depends on what you are writing. But no matter what you are writing, you will simply need to research until you find all that you need and, most likely, much, much more.