“Pencils down.” It’s a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of students. What if we didn’t write enough? What if all the answers are wrong? Too bad, you’re stuck with your final essay. It’s done and you can’t go back. There’s something about the finality of closing the door on any cerebral project that’s tough. We don’t want to miss anything—whether that’s a key piece of information or a witty quote. When it comes to writing books, we get it—ending your research and starting your draft is daunting.
It’s possible to go on researching forever, really. But then you’ll never publish your book! Virtually all non-fiction work and most fiction works will require at least some research to complete a final draft.
Writing a Book: How to Research
How do you research quickly and efficiently, yet thoroughly—so you have that sense of completeness so you can start writing your book? We’re going to give you nine killer research tips so you can publish your book and share your message with your readers.
1. When in Doubt, Stop!
Listen to your inner voice. If you think you might be done researching, you probably are.
Research is innately time-consuming. You waste precious time clicking away, looking for that one “perfect” piece of research. You have finite time, energy, and motivation. If you find yourself drained (rather than inspired) by the amount of research you’ve done, you’re probably done.
Done is better than perfect. Time to write.
If that sounds blasé, then please keep reading. We don’t want you to do a bad job—but we do want you to finish writing your book. Here’s how to research effectively—and fast:
2. “Backload” Research
This a concept which may strike you as controversial: Write first, research second. “That’s odd,” you may be thinking.
Hear us out. Consider this scenario: You’re working on your draft, and you hit a spot where you feel stuck. You don’t know the answer to a question that arises in your manuscript, so you switch over to Google and start poking around for the answer. Soon you find yourself wandering around the internet as if you came into a room to find something, but you can’t for the life of you remember what it was.
And here is where you find yourself at the end of your writing time…watching cat videos, and you don’t even like cats.
The problem with researching while you’re writing is that you squash your momentum. Your draft will take longer to finish and it will be harder to write if you need to jump out of your writing mindset to switch over to research.
The solution: Don’t research at all until after your rough draft is finished.
3. “TK” is Your Friend
Here’s an editorial trick: When you hit an impasse in your draft and you’re tempted to look something up, whether that’s a quote, a proper name, or details about a location, mark that TBD spot with the letters “TK.” TK annotates a spot in your draft to return to when it’s time to research. Then keep writing!
By setting aside your research for later, you can keep moving on your draft and fill in the small details later. This prevents you from taking up all your time with research and avoiding writing.
4. Turn off the Internet
Turn off the Internet while you’re writing. Madness, you say? Well, why do you need the Internet? You’re going to do your research when you’re done writing, so the Internet is just distracting you. Write now. Google later.
Some pro writers say they like to take their laptop to a locale with no Wi-Fi so there’s zero temptation. Try an Internet desert for a day or two and see if it improves your writing pace.
5. Keep it Organized
When you find a key piece of research, file it so you can track it down later. Whether you do this with a virtual folder on your laptop, an actual folder in your desk, or with a tool like Evernote or Scrivener, the idea is the same. You need to compile all your resources together in one place so you can find it later.
Organization now will make adding research to your manuscript later easier and quicker. When your draft is done, you can put your hands on your resources right away.
6. Red Text Marks the Spot
If you’re humming along in your draft and hit the crossroads of a quote or stat, switch your text color to red to highlight that you need to come back. Red text marks the spot that needs later attention and you can keep drafting.
Of course if you used the “TK” tip above you don’t need this step, because then you can just use ‘Control F’ to find where you placed TK in your draft. However, the red text will give you a visual STOP so you know this is an area that needs more research just by looking at it. Call it extra insurance so you don’t miss anything.
7. Hired Guns
There’s no shame in outsourcing your research needs. For the most cost-effective resource, consider an intern. Or, if you need to hire a pro, look to Upwork to find a good researcher—be sure to check ratings and consider giving applicants a short test to make sure they’re up for the task.
8. Add it All In
Batching your work is a trick of the productive. By segmenting what you need to get done, you maintain focus without the need to switch from unrelated task to unrelated task. When your first draft is finished, return to the designated areas that required research, which you marked with “TK” or red text. Fill in these gaps and add in all your research at once.
9. Finish Your Draft
Remind yourself that your goal right now is not the most perfectly researched book, it’s a finished one. You’re not going to be selling your research on Amazon, you’re going to be selling your story.
Writing a book is a mind game. Don’t let the lure of research (or cat videos!) distract you from finishing your draft. With our tips, you now know how to manage your research and get to work on writing.