Five Research Tips

Many, many years ago, when my favorite actor was early in his career, the studio release this promotional piece on how he stuttered as a child.  It was meant to get the heartstrings of the female fans, showing how he overcame stuttering and became an actor.  One small problem:  It was a work of fiction.  He’d never stuttered.  But, decades later, it still gets reported as fact in film resources.

That’s one of the problems with resources that quote other resources, and something to consider when doing research.  All it takes is one source, quoting another, to get a fact wrong (even a typo of a birth date, which also happened to my favorite actor), and other publications see it, think it’s accurate, and the error gets compounded.  With so many sources available on the internet, it’s even easier for something to be reported that’s inaccurate.  Just look at agent information.  If you run a search for agent list, you’ll get lists that give old agent addresses, the wrong genre, etc.

While I my urban fantasy is under construction with Holly Lisle’s How to Revise, I’m researching a new project that’s rooted in a current event.  These are some tips I’m keeping in mind:

  1. Look for authoritative sources.  If I’m using the internet, I automatically give more weight to a college or government site than I will a freebie site.  Likewise, if I’m trying to find out what an agent reps, I don’t get it off a list site–I go look at the agent’s site, his blog, and any interviews he’s done.
  2. Get as close to the original source as possible.  In my case, since it’s a current, it’s the newspapers reporting on the current event because the perspective at the time was very different than 20 years later.
  3. Compare information from two different sources.
  4. Watch out for anything that’s opinion and not fact.  If you’re looking for opinions, that’s fine, but opinion (and emotion) can cloud facts.
  5. Avoid TV and film as a research source altogether.  This is a very popular method among beginners, and it often takes a lot of liberties for the sake of entertaining.  Just get on a message board in a discussion about guns, and you’ll see how inaccurate film portrays guns!

Be smart when it comes to researching your book.