4 Questions to Ask When Researching


When you’re researching a book, whether it is fiction or non-fiction you need to make choices and you need to evaluate information. He good news is that information is far more accessible than it used to be. The bad news is that our society is swimming in an ocean of information and misinformation. When we’re researching a book, the amount of information can be overwhelming, and I’ve found four important questions help me to at least keep my head above the information waters:

  1. How can I clarify the situation? In other words, what’s going on, and what am I trying to accomplish? We need to set parameters on the research—Do we want to be experts in a topic or simply look for inspiring quotations to use as references? Clarify what you feel you need before moving forward. Goal-less research will rob us of valuable time, time we could be spending marketing or writing, and we need to know before we begin what we want to accomplish and not accomplish when we research.
  2. Is it relevant and accurate? I have a client that is an absolute stickler for accuracy in their researched material. They demand primary sources, not simple stories from “1,000 Illustrations” books or quotes used as references in other books. They want to use original texts not Wikipedia references. With so many sources out there, we all need to be sure what we’re sharing with others in our writing is accurate. We can lose a reader quickly when research isn’t accurate. Relevance is just as important. Be careful of being sucked into research rabbit holes that are not making your point or carrying your story. They may be trivially interesting but learn to weed out irrelevant research as much as possible.
  3. Am I being misdirected. This is often a difficult step and it requires wisdom and discernment. We are bombarded with information daily by social media, advertising, device notifications, 24-hour news channel experts, and many other means. When we research, especially using tools like Google or Google books, we’re flooded with opinions and facts. There’s a delicate balance beam we must walk to discern what is valuable information which helps us learn and communicate, and what is strictly information trying to distract or misdirect us. Yes, we need to be open minded, but we also can’t be, as the apostle Paul said, “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14 ESV).” Let’s hold the line and not be “tossed around” in our research.
  4. Am I being objective? We can fall into the trap of personal bias and experience. When researching we often don’t spread the net far enough. We tend to use the familiar sources. I recently worked on a project that took me into a group of scholars who had several different opinions than mine. Since the product was for them, and not in my voice, I needed to drop my bias and listen. In the end, it was one of the most worthwhile projects as it truly expanded my thinking, teaching, and writing. Did we ever agree on some issues? No, we didn’t, but we parted friends appreciating each other’s positions.

Researching any book can be a fun and invigorating experience. We not only learn about our subject and we expose our readers to new and different ways to get from point A to point B or, understand a concept, or envision a fictional world. These four questions help guide me through the myriad of information we can dig up with today’s technology. Let me know what helps you research and learn.

For more insights on publishing or individual help with your projects contact me at info@waynehastings.com.




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