Writers at all levels, at some time, will need to do research. Some will do it all on their own, and some will hire a research assistant. On March ninth I wrote about saving time on research, so now I will go over the steps I use to do my own research, and I always get all the answers I need. I think the best way to illustrate what I’m talking about is to set up a situation, and lead you through the process.
Situation: I am writing a story about a Bishop being attacked by a serial killer and defending himself using the base of his staff to the killer’s crotch.
First, you need to determine what you need to know. I have two ways of doing this. I ask questions, and come up with theories. While rereading my first draft, I came across the part where it said, “and he lifted the base of his bishop’s staff to catch the killer square in the crotch…” I already knew that it wasn’t called a ‘bishop’s staff’ but it had to wait for the rewrite. Therefore, I came up with a question that needed answering if I was to appear credible. “What is the name of the bishop’s staff?”
If you have more than one question, start with the simplest first. By starting simple, you may find answers to some of your other questions through the first answer. The answer to your first question will serve as the base of your research. Each answer you find will eventually help you get the answer to the hardest question. I found the answer to this question on line. I typed bishop’s staff in the search bar, which came up with a site that showed where to find the names and meaning of each part of their attire. This helped me discover that I had misnamed other parts of their clothes in the story. It also helped me describe the top of the crosier (the bishop’s staff) relevant to the time.
Write it down. Not only should you write the answer to your question and keep it for possible future use, but you should also write down other useful information that your research turns up. In this case, the hat is called a mitre, and the robe is called a sakkos. Writing this down, and putting it in a file helped me with the rest of the rewrite to keep the story accurate.
Just an additional tip for research, never trust every source you use, always backup the information with other sources.
If you continue to follow these steps until you answer all the questions you ask you will probably have the information you need to make your stories live with all your readers, even the experts.
Challenge: Start a special file, if you haven’t already, for research information, and see how many uses you can get out of it.