Today, the average reader will not be pleased if the novel he’s reading does not contain a high degree of authenticity and detail about a particular location or subject matter. An author is expected to have done enough research to be familiar with every aspect of the world he has created in his novel. The following are five resources you can turn to when you do your research and explanations of how to utilise them to maximise the benefit you derive from them.

Using the Internet for Research

It is now common knowledge that there is a website for almost every subject under the sun. Even if a website does not give you the exact information you’re looking for, you will be able to contact the owners via email with a special query or request for information. The beauty of using the internet for your research is that you can do all of this in the comfort of your own home. Even if you do not have a computer of your own, you can still gain access to the internet from a library or an internet café.

For example, say you live in Europe, but would like to write a crime drama about corals being stolen from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. There is no need to go to Australia to do the research. Your first step would be to go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo. Then, type specific keywords like ‘corals,’ ‘Great Barrier Reef’ and ‘Australia’ into the search engine. You’ll probably find close to 100,000 websites dedicated to this subject.

Visiting Libraries, Museums and Stately Homes as Part of Research for Your Novel

If you do not like computers and the internet, one option open to you is the local library. Chat with the librarian, explain what your story is about and the kind of research you need to do. Librarians are usually very enthusiastic and more than willing to help. You may be given access to a variety of sources like microfilmed copies of old newspapers, books, encyclopaedias, biographies, travel guides, historical volumes, costume books and technical manuals on any number of subjects.

Visiting a stately home or museum will enhance any knowledge you have already gleaned from the research done in the library or via the internet. For instance, assume that your story is a historical drama. More than the excitement of seeing something you’ve only read about thus far, you will be in a better position to describe it when you see an actual version of the item in question. Here’s a tip: always contact the curator of a museum before your visit as he may be able to find all sorts of useful and unusual facts that you’ll miss if you go on your own.

Reference Books Are a Great Tool for Research

Reference books are useful when you choose to write a series of novels on the same topic. If you cannot afford to buy these reference books brand new, visit second-hand bookstores and you’re bound to see something you’ll like. For example, the Writer’s Digest Books has a whole series of books to help a writer who wants to specialise in crime investigation: there are books on law enforcement, the characteristics of weapons, how post-mortems are carried out, how evidence is processed and analysed, the fundamentals of character profiling and guides to forensic medicine.

Interview Experts as Part of Your Research

Aspiring writers are often reluctant to contact experts in a particular field. They are put off by rumours that these experts tend to be cantankerous and unwilling to meet them. The truth of the matter, however, is that most experts are thrilled to be contacted as they get to share their knowledge. In addition, if you promise to add their name to the acknowledgements section of your novel, they’re unlikely to refuse your offer to interview them.

Today, the advice given to any aspiring novelist is this: ‘write what you know or what you can find out about.’ As shown above, conducting research for your novel, instead of being a chore, onerous or dull, is actually fascinating and fun. Therefore, do not be scared to set your novel in an unusual place or time because, if you do your research properly, it will only enhance the quality of your novel and make it more attractive to publishers.

Sources Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)

Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101:

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