Research is a crucial step on the journey towards finishing your first draft of your book. While nonfiction books will generally need more research than fiction books, many novelists still spend hours preparing before writing their book and might find historical details or geographical locations to inspire their writing.
First hand research can sometimes be the easiest method. If a character in your novel is going to eat a sandwich and you make a similar meal to inspire the description then you are doing primary research for your book.
On the other, primary research can be incredibly difficult and involve travelling across the country (or even the world) to view historical archives or locations.
The main advantage of primary research is that information you discover may be less likely to appear anywhere else, and make your book unique. While it can be expensive and time-consuming to conduct research, it can also be the element that sells your book and expertise above others and demonstrates to readers that you know what you’re writing about.
This means looking through resources that other people have discovered and collected: books, magazines, newspapers, journals, archives, documentaries, etc. Looking at these resources will provide you with ideas. You should also be aware of the gaps – what do these books and documentaries not talk about that you could do some further research on? And are they accurate? There are a number of myths in self-help books perpetuated by new authors repeating them without thought or research. Be careful with secondary research – you still need to check that it’s accurate and current.
Use bibliographies in books and articles. At the end of a non-fiction book there is often a list of titles the author consulted when writing. You can use this as a reading-list for your research. Beware the book that makes claims but states no sources.
This is data that can be expressed through numbers. These could be sales figures, temperature levels, or the number of people who used public transport in a week.
Many non-fiction and reference books benefit from quantitative data to support their arguments and opinions.
Qualitative data is information that is expressed in words and can be gathered first hand or through secondary research.
Non-fiction books benefit from a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data.
Some fiction authors find qualitative data a useful source of inspiration.
Asking questions on social media pages related to your topic might help you get to the answer you need quickly. Just make sure that you visit a trusted source to confirm anything you hear there, as ignorance and misinformation abounds. Treat it as a starting point rather than a definitive answer.