One Writer’s Journey

February 27, 2017

Research: How much is enough?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
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books-1605416_1920Recently someone asked me how much research is enough to write a book.  Do I use 20 sources?  Thirty?  Do my books for teens require more than the third grade books?

I wouldn’t say that age level plays as big a part in the amount of research that I need to do as the topic itself.  If there are books that you can use as resources, I may not have to use as many sources, especially if one or more books has a lot of information.  But if the topic is something new with fewer books already on the subject in print?  Then I am going to have to use more sources. If you have to use a lot of articles, you will have a huge bibliography.

Perhaps these numberw will show you what I mean.  For Ancient Maya, I used 52 sources including a number of books. when I wrote Black Lives Matter, there were no books for teens and almost nothing for adults on this topic.  I used 188 different sources.  The Zika Virus was similar with so much new material coming out and my bibliography had 120 sources.  But what about a book that is something of a survey?  Women in Sports covered the history of women in modern sports. Not baseball.  Not basketball.  Sports.  I used 206 sources.

These books are all 15,000 words long.  My books for 3rd graders are much shorter at 3500 words.  12 Incredible Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis required 43 sources and I used 48 for the book on esports, both of which are comparable to the number of sources I used for the Maya book.

Although I understand why I teacher would tell a student to use 5 sources or 10, I would never answer this question with a number.  There is just too much variety depending on the topic and what else is in print.  Instead, I would say that you should research until you can start writing.

Just start.  Develop an outline if you are writing a longer book.  If you are writing a picture book, outline it and maybe rough it out.  This will tell you where you information is scant and what you still need to research.  I don’t worry about researching too much.  Research is too much fun to get stingy about it.  But I also don’t worry about researching too little.  If you’ve come up with a topic that has never been covered, which is what you need to do to sell, you are going to have to put in the work required to write a full and satisfying manuscript.  That is what is necessary much more than a specific number of sources.


February 22, 2016

Research: How much is enough?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:33 am
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Free stock photo of books, magazines, building, schoolRecently I read a blog post about how much research you need to do before you start writing a piece of historic fiction.  The author of the post had been researching the year in which her story was set (1939) for a full year. She wondered when she would have enough research to start writing.  The advice that she was given was to research until she had a sense of place and time.  She was told to research until she had a feel for the world and then start writing.  She could, after all, do additional research as she wrote the story.

This advice is solid but it doesn’t just apply to historical fiction.  Whether you are writing research-based fiction or nonfiction, at some point you have to make the decision to quit reading and start writing.  The trick is to find enough information to inform your writing without using research as an excuse not to write.  I say this because it is so easy to do.  “No, no.  I’m not done doing my research.  I can’t start writing yet.”

Even with 7 nonfiction books under my belt, I found myself doing this with Duchess and my most recent project.  Fortunately, I’m accountable to Duchess who gently nudged and pushed and prodded.  I finished the outline Saturday.  I have to incorporate her tweaks but I’m going to start writing today.

My personal preference is to read until I am finding nothing new and information is repeating itself.  I want to know the information so well that I recognize incorrect data for what it is.  “No, that can’t be right.  It contradicts this and this and that.” I’ve reached the point that I can question the accuracy of my sources.  If I was working on this book alone, I’d do a bit more reading before I got started. Fortunately, Duchess is a subject matter expert on black feminism.  In spite of Duchess’s expertise, I know that I will be doing more reading.  That’s just a part of writing based on research.



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