Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writing Non-fiction: Session 3 - Research

Writing Non-fiction:
Session 3 - Setting up a system for stashing the research notes for your non-fiction book
Now that you’ve chosen a topic for your non-fiction book and the approach you’re going to take in writing about your topic, you are probably itching to start writing. Not so fast. Before you write your book, it’s important to thoroughly research your topic. For your non-fiction book to be credible, it needs to be well-researched and well-documented.

Depending on the topic you've chosen for your non-fiction book, you may have more or less research to do. Whether you only have to straighten out a few dates and names for your memoir or if you have weeks or months of in-depth research ahead of you for a less familiar topic, organization is the key to keeping your book on track.

To start, set up a good recordkeeping system. Here are some suggestions.

Note cards. One way to organize the information for your non-fiction book is to write your notes on note cards and file them alphabetically by topic in a card file. On each card be sure to put the topic, the information, any quotes you may find useful in the future, and the bibliographic information you’ll need for footnotes or the reference section of your book.

Notebook. Take a three-ring binder and put your notes in it. You can organize them in alphabetical order as you did with the note cards or by topics and subtopics in each section. Be sure to keep careful records on the books, magazine articles, journal articles, web articles, etc., you use when researching your non-fiction book, so you will have all the information you need when the time comes to write the bibliography and reference section.

Computer notes. If you want to keep your research notes for your non-fiction book on the computer, set up a file folder for your notes and file folders within that file folder for large topics within the book. In each folder, you can file the notes you take. After you take your notesfor your topic, be sure to give the document an appropriate file name so you can find it easily within the folder. As with the other two recordkeeping systems, it’s important to write down the sources of the information.

All of these record systems are about equal. It’s your choice which one you use, or you may want to invent another that will better meet your needs. Personally, I prefer to keep notes on the computer. That way, when I’m ready to write, I can just lift quotes from my notes and paste them into the book document without having to retype. And, if you write out your reference documentation in the proper format from the start, it’s easy to copy that into your book as well. There’s nothing more tedious than writing out a bibliography. It’s your choice, however.
If you do choose to invent your own system for keeping track of the notes for your non-fiction book.


Be sure to establish a procedure within your system for keeping track of illustrations, pictures, and tables that you’ll use to illustrate your book. Document the sources for these as well and obtain the appropriate permissions to use them in your book.

Once you have a good system set up for organizing and keeping the information for your non-fiction book, get busy. It’s time to dig into your topic and find all the information libraries, the internet, book stores, people you interview, and journals have to offer.

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