Planning Your Writing: 1. Research

Planning Your Writing: 1. Research
By Norma J Hill (aka Pen and Paper Mama) © 2021

In our previous series for writers, we discussed and provided worksheets for “Self Exploration For Writers,” “Your Writing Life,” and “Author Considerations Beyond Just Writing.” In this new series, “Planning Your Writing,” we will explore:

  1. Research
  2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose
  3. Seeking Help
  4. Useful Planning Documents
  5. Style Guides & Manuals
  6. Developing Creativity and Story Skills
  7. Personal Style Sheet

At the end of each post in the series, there is a link to a downloadable and printable PDF copy on which you can write your responses. Put them in a binder or Duotang-type report folder (you can continue to add to your binder from the previous series). Then, periodically along your writing journey, return to your answers, read what you noted previously, and add new thoughts and experiences. Through this process, you’ll end up with a wonderful record of your writer’s journey.

1. Research

Ideally, you will do the planning activities in this series before you start writing—especially if you are a “plotter” who likes to plan your writing ahead of time, and always if you are writing nonfiction. If you are truly a “fiction pantser” who prefers to write, write, write, letting the imaginative, creative, spontaneous part of your brain pour out that first draft, you’ll need to go back to these planning activities afterward, and let your more methodical, detail-oriented inner editor take over to craft that initial writing. Generally, the more preparation you do before writing, the less editing will be required later. But each writer is different, so1 you’ll need to figure out what works best for you. So let’s talk planning. Make notes on each of these as they relate to your writing project:

Even if you’re writing fiction, you’ll almost certainly need to research aspects of the story that will make it believable to your readers. Unless you’re an expert on all aspects of your story already, research is critical. What aspects of your story do you need to research?      
Research the time period (past, present, or future), place, culture, technology, clothing and furnishings, transportation, food, scientific principles, and more. If you are having difficulty finding relevant information, perhaps for a futuristic story or a sci-fi story, read similar books and watch movies that take place in a similar kind of setting. What is believable? What isn’t? Apply what you’ve learned to your own story. (And ask beta-readers who are familiar with your genre to point out what is improbable in your story). Note here what you need to research and/or think through.        
Research the way people like your characters speak in your time period and location. Then decide how much of that language and/or dialect you will use, or if you will just toss in the odd word or phrase here or there to provide a flavor of the time, place, and characters. Will you have all your characters speak like that or just one or two main characters—or none?      
Besides researching at the library or on the internet, interview experts. For example, if your story includes a court scene, interview a lawyer or judge who is very familiar with the topic. If your story includes medical issues, interview a doctor who specializes in that branch of medicine. Who do you need to interview and for which character(s)? What do you specifically need to find out?    
Record your research carefully and make notes recorded as marked as either directly “quoted” or as paraphrased. When writing nonfiction, in which you will use direct quotations, record the citations accurately and fully, following the style manual suited to your document. Which style manual do you need to use for your manuscript?    

Note: If you didn’t record and cite your notes properly before writing, you will have to go back to your sources, find the information again, and then record and cite, which means a lot of extra research time. If you find yourself in that situation, remember next time you write a document to do your research notes and citations correctly from the start!

Putting your notes into practice:

Before you start to write, set up a research folder with sub-folders for the specific topics you need to research. Be sure to record all your sources correctly and mark them as direct quotations or paraphrases. (Do this even if you’re writing fiction, as you may need to later go back to a source to double-check and/or find out more details, as well as to defend your information if I question your work). If you prefer to write your first draft “off the top of your head,” be sure to put some kind of mark (question or asterisk, for example) at any point in your draft where you realize you might need to do some research.

PDF LINK: Planning Your Writing: 1. Research

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