Each good writer has their own method of research. A method that is, among other things, the following:
Now, what qualifies as adaptable and reliable will change from person to person. But my own personal method works for me, and that’s all any of us can ask for. I hope that by detailing my method, someone will be able to take bits and pieces to create one that works for them.
Though I wouldn’t call it complicated, my method of research and taking notes does have a number of components that make it work for me as a writer. I use an analog capture method like the Bullet Journal, start with the most interesting thing first, make sure to answer some basic questions, and follow a note-taking procedure that I find to be effective in my own work.
Starting With The Interesting Stuff
If someone asked me, I would say this is the most important part of my personal research method. More important than how I take notes, my questions lists, or the way I use a Bullet Journal to capture notes and other information.
Without it, the other two would be a moot point. Who wants to spend hours and hours researching something that they have no interest in? Not me and definitely not when it comes to my writing, which I love.
It is with this in mind that I always try to start with the subject I find most interesting first when undertaking research. Starting with the interesting subject leads to more investment in the research itself. It also means that I am able to, through my research, develop an interest in areas I didn’t previously find interesting.
Generally, it means I look at big picture books first or in the case of a book on Hatshepsut that I’m reading, look at things from an individual to system approach. This was the life of Hatshepsut at this time in Ancient Egyptian history, how was it influenced by big picture things going on in Egyptian history at the time? This is what life was like in 1917, what impact would it have on the lives of the character in my story?
Analog Information Capture
I prefer to capture as much information as I can via my Bullet Journal and binders or notebooks. Using and analog or non-digital method, whether a Bullet Journal or something else, means that I don’t have to worry about my computer or some other device conking out on me when I’m in the middle of doing something. This allows for an uninterrupted flow when I’m researching or writing.
You don’t need to use a Bullet Journal for this to work. I just love the Bullet Journal as a method of analog information capturing. Mainly because I’ve found it to work for a variety of different applications in my life. The benefit for my research process, in particular, is astounding.
If using a Bullet Journal for research, however, I would suggest dedicating it to a specific project instead of multiple projects. I like to keep the following types of things in my project related Bullet Journals:
- research notes.
- a bibliography.
- a project breakdown.
- a basic questions list.
The basic questions list will be explained and so will my notes, but the bibliography is basically the same as a research paper or a secondary source text like Whirlwind by John Ferling (Amazon link). It’s a good way for me to keep track of what I read for a project/novel. Sometimes it’s short and sometimes long.
Sometimes it’s short and sometimes long.
The project breakdown, which I reference here and here (Link pending.), allows me more control over the scheduling aspect of the process.
Another thing someone may want to add in is a log of some sort, a tracker for research hours. Which I will be incorporating into things myself. Like I mentioned at the start, a good research process is adaptable and reliable.
For some strange reason, I like lists. I just do. They’re useful ways of keeping information straight. Which is part of the reason the Bullet Journal works so well for me, being that it is, in it’s most basic form, a book of lists and/or sketches.
One of the types of lists I kept, even before I started to use a Bullet Journal, was what I like to call a basic questions list. It’s something that helps me determine the basics of a story’s setting. Which may seem odd, but considering how influential to the story setting can be, is something I’ve found makes sense to know in order to frame my research.
My basic questions lists, generally, fall into one of three categories: secondary world, historical, and Earth-based settings. Each playing a part in how much research and the type of research I may need to do for a project.
The research needed for secondary world settings, whether Fantasy or Science Fiction, tends to vary depending on the story. Something it shares with the Earth-based settings. A setting based in whole or part on a specific place and time requires more research, in my experience than one with a more nebulous base.
Earth-based stories also have a variable amount of research, but where they differ from Secondary World stories is that, for my work, the range of genres is wider and the research very detail oriented rather than big picture. This type of set of questions also tends to mean that the story is either near future, contemporary, or near past. Something which, itself, helps with the research being more detail based.
Lastly, we have the historical questions. Historical stories, be they Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror etc. require the most research. Because in order for the story to ring true and make sense, the story needs to make sense within the chosen time period.
Answering my historical questions list is the one I take the most time on out of all three for. I like research, so I devote quite a bit of time to research in all three cases. But I spend longer researching the questions on my historical list in order to be better able to determine my plot, character histories, if something I want to do in a story is even possible and how etc.
Notes are the last part of my research methodology. They’re separated into two types, primary and secondary, because that makes them easier to label and reference later if and when I need them.
Secondary source notes, or notes made on materials not contemporary to the event, are done like the picture above. Doing it this way allows me the flexibility of incorporating any needed changes to this part of my process pretty easily. Like in a previous post, where I mentioned that I’m trying to make the area below direct quotes into their own miniature references.
Primary source notes are, as mentioned in the same post, done differently. What I didn’t mention is that I’m working on distinguishing notes that deal with terminology. For now, I’m experimenting with a gold dot to signal those types of notes. So far, I like it.
Since both all of these things are done in a Bullet Journal, I make use of a hack known as threading. Threading is when you write the next or last page that is part of the collection next to the number of the current page. It’s most useful when the parts of a collection are separated by several pages being used for pages that are part of other collections.
Materials I Use
The Zebra Z-Grip Flight in Broad (Amazon link.).
The Uni-ball Signo UM-153 in Gold (Amazon link.).
The Moleskine Classic Notebook in Large (Amazon link.).
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