Research: Finding the Right Sources

The Who by Sue Bradford Edwards

Nine times out of ten, much of the research that I do for a book is conducted online. Part of the reason for this is that I am often writing about current topics for teens. When I wrote my books, there were few if any books available on the Zika Virus, Black Lives Matter or the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This means that I have to find accurate information online. Some of what I find has been published in journals or various news sources. Other material comes from scientific blogs and sites.

But when I was researching this book on The Who, where I found things changed. Sure, I could find plenty of sites and posts but many were fans posts, music recordings and public appearances.

For information on what it was like to be in this band when it was new, I had to find interviews and other pieces by and about the band members. This time I turned to published books. Some of what I used were a bit older, including one published in Britain. Others were newer and these includes memoirs by Townsend and Daltry.

Sure, I could have gone with newspaper stories but I have to say that newspaper stories about celebrities tend to be pretty sensational. Are they accurate? Maybe. But often they are not. And they also often cover information that I’m not going to include. Sure, I made it clear that there were parties and punches thrown, alcohol and drugs, but it wasn’t the focus of my book so only so much was included.

Is this self-censorship? No.

The reality is that even when you are writing 14,000 words, you cannot include every bit of information. You have to consider the story that you are framing and include only the material that completes this particular story.

Don’t ignore online sources just because someone you know disparages them. But do know how to fine a wide variety of sources. You never know where what you need will be found.


New Class: Research Before You Write

I am putting together a class on the research you need to do before you start a new nonfiction writing project. For many new writers, one of the trickiest parts of writing nonfiction is getting the research done.  It can seem overwhelming if it is something you have never done before.

The class will be four weeks long:

Topics and Slants:  This will focus on doing the necessary research to see if your idea is already in print as well as how you can devise multiple slants to get the most out of your research and to adjust your idea if you do find something in print.

To Market:  How to find markets for your writing projects as well as how to make sure they are the kind of markets you want to approach.  Not everyone has the same goals but there are a variety of signs that can tell you if a market is legit.

Starting Your Research:  Some people think that they can’t use any secondary research in their work.  Secondary sources are among the best for finding the broad strokes on a topic.  This week will cover the difference between primary and secondary sources as well as how to find the most reliable information that has already been published.

Primary Sources:  This week will focus on why you want to include primary sources as well as where to find primary sources online and “in person.” There will also be information on how to do photo and map research and how to conduct interviews.

I am still fairly early in the planning process so this rough list of weekly topics may change as I take it to final.  Why am I posting about it now?  Because I want to make certain that I am covering the information that other people need.  You can help me by answering any of the following questions.

  • What information would you find helpful in a course on research?
  • What topics would you expect to see covered?
  • What aspect of research do you find difficult to master?
  • What am I forgetting?

I’ve been noodling this over for some time but always find it useful to get the opinions of other people.  Thank you!


Cover Reveal: The Dark Web

Over the weekend I was fiddling around on Amazon when I found the cover for my latest North Star title, The Dark Web.  It will be released in August.

I admit that as I’m writing a title, I sometimes wonder what the cover will look like.  What images will they use?  What font will they choose? And I’m almost always surprised with the direction that they take.

When I accepted this particular assignment, I didn’t know much of anything about the dark web.  My son, at twenty, knew a lot more.  “Which version are you writing?  The fuddy Boomer version or the truth?”

Yeah, no bias there.

But the more that I researched, the more that I saw his point.  For those of you who don’t know about the dark web, it is an area of the internet that is largely unregulated.  You access it through special browsers like Tor.

Because it is unregulated, it is the perfect place for illegal activity.  Narcotics and slaves are both sold on the Dark Web.  But whistle blowers also contact journalists through the Dark Web.  And people who are working against repressive regimes use the Dark Web.  Not comfortable with how Facebook is using your data?  That’s why some people go through the Dark Web. They don’t want their information being mined and used by others.

Don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t turn my kid loose on the Dark Web.  But then I didn’t turn my kid loose on the internet.

This was definitely an interesting book to research.  The cover?  I get someone using a mouse. That makes sense.  But a left handed man in a suit?  FBI?  Various Feds have been working hard to make it less anonymous.  Who knows?  Maybe next year I’ll get to write another title- The Deeper, Darker Web.