Crazy inventor. Photo compilation, photo and hand-drawing elements combinedLet’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.

What is research?

“The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” (Credit: Google’s online dictionary thingy that pops up every time you search anything that begins with ‘What is’).

What isn’t research?

Answer 1. Any webpage, YouTube video or Facebook profile that’s at least 3 web pages or one topic removed from the thing you started searching for in the first place.

Answer 2. An excuse not to write.

When to do research?

Answer 1. When you’re winging ‘facts’ that are obviously being created from the smoke coming out your … well, you know what I mean (sorry mom).

Answer 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?

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

Answer 2. When you’re looking for someone more ‘respected’ than you 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 a long time ago.

When to stop doing research?

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

Answer 2. When the timer rings –  (this piece of advice is actually valuable) 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.

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 who 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 out just Google it? Yeah, maybe. You can probably get away with kicking your neighbor’s dog when nobody’s looking too. But really? Doesn’t enough bad behavior exist in the world already without us creating our own little hurt factories?

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 – where ‘qualified’ research sources live.

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.’

If financial resources were sufficient 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 in 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 other sources, like your cousin’s insurance agent, extraterrestrial beings or, 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. Told you it was a brave new world. P.S. I’d still avoid source material from insurance agents and extra-terrestrials unless it’s in writing.

I’d go on but my timer just dinged.


Click here for “How to write a book in 30 days” step 10: “Write-Craft”