I was in a remote area of India when I awoke in the middle of the night feeling terrible. My bed was drenched with sweat, yet I shook so badly from chills that my teeth chattered. I tried to stand up, but pain like a pile of brinks crashed down on my head. Thanks to John Grisham, I knew immediately what was wrong. I had malaria.
Fortunately for me, I had read Grisham’s The Testament on the plane. And fortunately, John Grisham is a thorough researcher. Nate, the main character, contracts malaria, and the author describes the onset perfectly. Lesson here? Good writing always starts with good research. Yes, fiction as well as non-fiction.
These days, research is far easier than it was in the “olden days.” Back then, we had to trek to the library and spend hours pouring over books and guides. Details… facts… specific references… they all required endless digging.
No more, though. Today, with so much info on the internet, the challenge isn’t finding information. It is separating what you need to know from what is simply interesting. Follow these steps to help you become a more savvy researcher:
- Decide ahead of time what kind of information you need. Are you looking for a few stubborn facts to fill in blanks in what you have already written? Do you write about a point or a place you need to be totally accurate? Are you just beginning to develop a setting? Are you looking for interview subjects? Your online research should fit your undertaking. One size definitely does not fit all.
- Choose reference sites that best fit your needs. Many topics (such as malaria) have dedicated sites that you can locate through www.Google.com. But others may not have ready-made sites. For these I rely on my old favorite www.britannica.com .
- Search out those illusive half-remembered facts. You know what I mean: Quoth the raven, …uh… What did that old bird say again? Or, What was the city Gertrude Stein referred to when she said, “There’s no there there”? For such puzzles, I turn to www.ask.com.
- Locate official sites. You know an official site exists, but the URL is not obvious enough for you to figure it out. For instance, who could guess that the web address for the National Archives is www.nara.gov ? Google whatever it is you want to research and go directly to the source.
Do you have research suggestions to add to this list? Or favorite research sites to share? We would love to hear them.
“Twice in three days I have uttered my last words.”
~John Grisham, The Testament~