Consider While Writing: Research Prep
By Amy Groening

Our “Consider While Writing” blog series is intended to help you plan ahead while working towards the final draft of your manuscript. Planning for what lies ahead during the writing process can help ensure your manuscript makes a smooth transition into publication, and we have a few notes on what to watch out for a long the way. For this installment, we will be focusing on compiling research. For our previous installments, check out Consider While Writing: Manuscript Setup and Consider While Writing: Interior Layout

Keep Track

Planning ahead is a common theme in our Consider While Writing series. When it comes to research, this means making sure that you have all the information you need on any of the resources that you’ve made use of while researching your book. No matter how small a scrap of information, no matter whether you think you’ll use that scrap or not, it’s important to keep track of what you’re reading: the last thing you want is to be halfway through editing your book, and realize that you don’t have a source to attribute a quote or fact to!

Keep careful notes on all your sources.

For all books, the following information needs to be provided:
1. Author’s Name
2. Book Title
3. Location of Publisher (City)
4. Name of Publisher
5. Year of Publication
6. Page Number Quoted From (for direct quotes only.)

It can be helpful to photocopy or the copyright page of any book you refer to (especially if it’s not a book you own), to make sure you don’t miss any information when you’re noting citation details. Keep all the copyright pages in a folder specific to the book you’re working on, so you don’t get mixed up.

For all web sources, the following information needs to be provided:
1. Name of web page.
2. Name of website.
3. Date the information was accessed.
4. URL (web address).
Again, for online articles, it’s a good idea to print out the article and then write the pertinent information (date accessed, for instance) on it, to help you keep track. This is especially helpful if you’re using lots of online sources, or any sources with similar titles.

For all magazines, the following information needs to be provided:
1. The name of the Article’s author
2. The article title
3. The name of magazine
4. The issue date
5. The page numbers of the article

To reference a TV show, you would need the following information:
1. Last name of the authority (eg: the Executive Producer)
2. The first name of the authority
3. Title of the authority
4. Year of the first season of program
5. Title of the program
6. Location of the broadcasting company
7. Name of the broadcasting company.

How you cite your sources is up to you (our standard is Chicago Manual)—just make sure you’ve got everything you need to do it accurately!

Stick to Reputable Sources

Whenever you’re reading information on a website, stop and ask yourself if it’s considered a reputable source. Is it an academic website? An official news blog? Or is it a Yahoo Answers page? Cites that aren’t monitored and peer-reviewed can be pitfalls of inaccurate information, which means you may be unwittingly sharing information that’s wrong. Not only that, but if anyone takes a glance at your citations and sees you sourcing an online forum or personal blog, they’re likely to take you a bit less seriously. Stick to official sources.

Avoid Wikipedia. It can be tempting, I know; Wikipedia is a wealth of information and is easily accessed—however, it is not generally a recognized source, especially in academia, and the same rule applies to it as above.

Pro Tip: If you find a great article on Wikipedia, follow the facts back to their sources. Wikipedia cites its sources at the bottom of each article, and often those are reputable, peer-reviewed sources that you can use.

Watch What You’re Quoting

Different copyright rules apply to different types of sources, but the bottom line is, avoid quoting anything excessively. If you find a 500-word article, and you quote 250 words of it, someone could very easily come after you for copyright infringement. If you quote an entire chapter of a book, or even just a full page of it, you could run into the same issue—even paraphrasing a piece too closely can cause problems if you’re not careful.

Do your best to build your arguments as a stand-alone works (this can be, understandably, difficult when you’re responding to or commenting on a body of work—but it’s worth it!). If you came across a piece of writing that is particularly inspiring, and you’re just itching to include a big chunk of it in your manuscript, get in touch with the publisher and ask for permission. If they will not grant it (or permission rights come with a fee that doesn’t fit into your budget), just give the book a nod (eg: “Dr. Author’s account in chapter 4 of Title is a beautiful example of this.”) and move on—better to leave it out than risk stepping on another author’s toes.

And: Songs are right out. Quoting even a line of a song lands in a gray area that leads to some tricky navigation and sticky situations, so avoid including song lyrics (unless you own the song) at all costs.

I hope this helps keep you on your toes when researching for your next book! Tune in on September 4 for our next installment in the Consider While Writing series: Novel Planning.

About this Contributor:

Amy Groening is a project manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cat committing random acts of feline crime.

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