How To Write a Book in 30 Days


9. Do Your Research

Let’s talk about research. What it is and what it isn’t. When to do it, when not to do it, when to stop doing it, and when credit should be given. We can also mention where proper research material used to live and where it lives today.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Wernher von Braun

German-American physicist and rocket engineer

What is research?

The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.”*

What isn’t research?

1. Any webpage, YouTube video, or Facebook profile that’s at least three web pages or one topic removed from the thing you started searching for in the first place.

2. An excuse not to write.

(Credit: Google’s online pop-up dictionary)

Module 9: Do Your Research

by Steve Spillman | How to Write a Book in 30 Days

When to do research

1. When you’re winging the ‘facts,’ pulling them out of thin air.

2. Any time your ‘factual source’ is the special effects explosion in a twenty-year-old Sylvester Stallone movie you watched on late-night TV last Thursday.

When not to do research

1. During your writing time. That’s why we don’t call it ‘research time.’

2. When you’re looking for someone more ‘respected’ than you are to qualify your work. You’re fine, your work is your work, and it’s fine. You don’t need to be qualified by anybody other than the One Who created you, and He pre-qualified you to do your work a long time ago.

When to stop doing it.

1. The second it sneaks its way into your writing time.

2.  (this advice is actually valuable) When the timer rings – find a timer, set it (my timer is set at 45 minutes) and stop when it goes ding. (credit: thank you, Mary Carroll Moore, for reminding me in your excellent blog post, “Researching Your Book — How to Do It, When to Stop and Get Writing.” I will insist that my new authors read it before I return their calls). http://howtoplanwriteanddevelopabook.blogspot. com/2011/04/researching-your-book-how-to-do-it-when.html

When should source credit be given?

Okay, I know this is a trick question. All knowledge, opinion, fact, and falsehood exist on the Internet. It is a town without a Sheriff, at least not one that cares about you. You can steal with impunity and a left mouse click. What you steal has probably been stolen a few times already. Do you even need to worry about giving source credit anymore? Can’t anyone interested in finding out where you found it just Google it? Yeah, maybe. You can probably get away with kicking your neighbor’s cat when nobody’s looking, too. But really? Doesn’t enough bad behavior exist in the world already without us creating our own little factories of not nice?

Here’s the answer: Give credit where it’s due, all the time, and with care to get it right. Like my Best Friend says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And then there’s Karma. It may not be in the Bible, but I wouldn’t test it if I were you.

Proper research protocol half-life, aka, where to look for ‘qualified’ sources?

I’m an oldster.

Back in the stone age, we only considered research sources valid if they came from books and other printed material (microfiche was okay too) that were housed in large stone structures called ‘libraries.’

With sufficient financial resources we could purchase qualified research material in manually operated, analog vending stations called ‘bookstores.’ No login or password was required. In order to access the information, you actually had to visit the physical location, walk into the building (operating hours only), and search the aisles on foot (I kid you not) until you found what you were looking for.

Research from sources like your cousin’s insurance agent, extraterrestrial beings, and, God forbid, the Internet were not allowed – they were all untrustworthy, full of lies, and very dangerous sources in which to put any trust.

Not so today; it’s a brave new world. ‘Qualified’ sources have changed. Thanks to advances in the publishing industry, we now have countless books and printed material available to us that are also untrustworthy, full of lies, and very dangerous sources in which to put any trust. The Internet is still the mother of all subterfuge and quackery, but it is also the repository of all other generally available knowledge in the universe. It’s okay to use Internet sources as ‘valid’ research material as long as the material you choose is really valid. It’s up to you to sort the wheat from the chaff. I told you it was a brave new world. P.S. I’d still avoid source material from your cousin’s insurance agent and extraterrestrials…unless it’s in writing.

I’d go on, but my research timer just dinged.


  1. Review your writing for content that you’re not completely sure is factual or that might be suspect.  For now, you can just highlight the passages that seem a little sketchy. Don’t start researching right this minute; just highlight or make a note of any topic you need to research.
  2. Schedule a time to research that is not your writing time. Find a timer (you have one on your phone) and decide how long you’ll give yourself in this session. Set the timer and stop research when the timer dings. This doesn’t mean I want your research to be incomplete; it means I want you to be aware of your focus and time spent in research. I don’t want you to fall into the bottomless pit of Facebook or YouTube retention algorithms. There are a lot of very smart, very young people whose job it is to get you to spend eternity consuming nonsense on their Social Media platforms.
  3. Give credit to your sources. If your source material is a publication, like a book, magazine, or newspaper, give the source credit as a footnote. If the source material is online, include the URL (web address) in your footnote. If you do provide a URL for the source material, you may want to set a reminder on your calendar a year from now to check the links to be sure they’re still active. One trick I use in the books we publish is to include a link to a web page we manage that provides additional resources for the reader. Any sources we put in the book can be checked at this central location. It’s easier for the reader and easier for us to check and maintain sources. More on that when we talk about Frontmatter and Backmatter.
  4. When the timer dings, take a break. You may not be done with your research, but I want you to develop the same discipline with your research time as you have with your writing time.

Next: Module 10: Better Writing

Click here to visit module 10 “Better Writing”