How to be a Research-Based Author

This week I learned …

How to be a better researcher when it comes to writing. As a writer, I consume a lot of media in the form of books, podcasts, and videos. Alongside traveling to new places, this information helps fill my creative ‘well’ and provides inspiration for the stories I create. 

However, it can be tricky keeping track of all that information. Particularly, when it comes time to write (fiction or nonfiction) and it’s necessary to give credit where credit is due. 

In Episode #579 of The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn interviews Vikki Carter, The Author’s Librarian, about how we as authors can strengthen our voices and avoid accidental plagiarism by putting on our ‘Librarian’ hat and getting down to business when it comes to research. 

Research doesn’t have to be painful and like anything you do as a writer it should benefit your writing, not detract from it. Research can take a variety of different forms. You could literally be sitting in a library looking through pages of books, newspapers, and other archives. But it could also be any source of information, such as the ones I listed in the first paragraph. Or even going on a trip somewhere and journaling about your experience.  

Personally, I love learning and I journal a lot to keep track of what I learn. Lately, I’ve switched from traditional pen and paper to using Google Forms to collect summaries and key takeaways of what I’m learning. In fact, that’s been the basis behind my TWIL posts. 

I have a Google Form I fill out when I learn something interesting and I want to remember it (or in this case share it). I’ve set up my form so that I have the ability to write a 280-character summary (i.e. Tweet-sized), three takeaways (also tweet-sized), as well as places to note the source, categorize it, and any additional notes I might need to make. 

For example, some sources I’ll use directly in pieces such as blog posts like these or when I’m writing the nonfiction episodes of Blinded by Science. But other sources I’ll use as the inspiration for fictional pieces I intend to write. 

Regardless of how I end up using the source I do want to make note of how I intend to use it so that I give the appropriate attribution. In the case of nonfiction, that’s clearly an appropriate citation to the original author. In the case of fiction, it could be mentioning the source in the Author’s Note or in an Appendix.

Here are my tweet-sized summaries and takeaways for how to be a better researcher as a writer:

Research for Authors (via The Creative Penn)

Researching your written work does not have to be arduous, painful, or stressful. Authors who embrace a research based approach, regardless of genre, only enhance their voice and word as writers. The more you know, the better you write. 

Takeaways: 

  • Use the following criteria to evaluate sources: accuracy, authority, aim. Is the source accurate? If unsure, how can you corroborate it with primary sources? Is the source a voice of authority within their realm? What is the aim of the source? Are they trying to educate/sell?
  • Goal of note-taking: keep it short & be deliberate. For ideas you want to remember: paraphrase them in your own words. If you are using a direct quote, get permission & give an attribution. Don’t forget the title, author, publisher, & how you accessed the source. 
  • Avoid (accidental) plagiarism by paraphrasing & using signal words (e.g. According to …). Give credit where credit is due; acknowledge others’ work in an ‘Author’s Note’ or ‘Acknowledgements’ — even if you only used it for inspiration. Always link back to the original author.

Thanks for reading!

If you liked this post, share it with a friend or on social media. You can tag me on Twitter @wordsbyfifi

Don’t forget to leave a comment: if you’re an author who also loves to research, what method do you use for organizing your notes?


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Published by Anthony

A creative soul expressing himself thru sci-fi stories, haiku, & podcasts. Podcast 🎙 host of Blinded by Science & The Haiku Pond. Visit my website to explore my creations: anthonynanfito.com.

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