If you are writing nonfiction, chances are you will have to research. Here are seven of the most effective ways to go about it.
The first rule of interviewing is to find an expert. The second is to use every listening skill at your disposal. If you don’t understand what you’re hearing, ask for clarification. You are there to learn, not to show the other person how much you know. Summarize, in your own words, what you understood. The third rule is to continue to build your understanding and knowledge base with every question and every person you talk to.
2. Research room of the public library
Your best friend should be the research librarian at your local library. Before everything was computerized, librarians acted as walking databases. No matter what you asked them, they could point you to the area of the room, the shelf, and the precise reference book you needed. Their scope is even broader now due to the numerous targeted on-line sites. Ninety percent of research is done through libraries’ full-text databases.
3. University & specialized libraries
If you haven’t visited one, do it just for your general education, if not for a specific subject. Most universities have a large, central library and several special-collection libraries. These often include art and architecture, business, all branches of science, law, medicine, music, and special collections; but many large universities have even more.
4. Books on your subject area
There is no such thing as a new idea. If you’ve thought of it, someone else has, too; and that person has probably written a book about it. That doesn’t mean you should abandon your idea; it simply means you must tackle it in a different way. Find other books on your topic in (a) bookstores with large selections, (b) public or special libraries, or (c) on-line at such sites as amazon.com, bn.com, or borders.com. This is a fast way to find titles, synopses, and reviews.
Want to know about a specific industry or publicly held company within that industry? Start collecting annual reports from a stockbroker or directly from the company. Then look up relevant magazine and newspaper articles. Also check out business publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, and Barron’s, and business-related TV channels.
6. Government agencies
There is so much literature put out by government agencies, it boggles the mind. It is there for the asking, and much of it is free of charge. Besides departments and major agencies, there are boards, commissions, committees, offices, and services, as well as judicial, legislative, and administrative sources. Start with http://www.lib.lsu.edu/gov/tree.
7. The Internet
In today’s world, the World Wide Web is an unlimited source of material. The secret of researching on the Web is knowing how to use search engines. Fortunately, most search engines have helpful hints on how to use them most effectively. Look up researching on-line at http://www.marin.cc.ca.us/~adair/workshop.html.