Why Research is Important: Where to Research

Image of a stack of books with Do Your Research Part Two

In Part One of this series, because who knows, I may do more, I discussed readers tend to catch, very easily, when an author doesn’t do research. In some cases, it can be jarring and takes away from the story. And honestly? It’s lazy ass writing.

Since I am a librarian by training (and career path), I thought it might be a good idea to list places you can research online without leaving your house.

  • Local library offers online databases and reference guides. Best part? It’s all free! Here is a link to the services one of my libraries offers:
  • Online newspapers for your area
    • Search for “city +newspapers” (sans quotes)
  • Newspapers.com has over 25,000 newspapers from around the world stretching back into the early 19th century. (There is a fee, of course, but it’s not terrible.)
  • Use Google maps and Street View to get to know the area and help build your own
  • Responsibly use Wikipedia
    • Wikipedia has come a long way on being factual in that a list of legit sources is now a typical component of an article rather than Vanguard66 just writing the article.
  • JSTOR provides access, for free (but there is a paid option), to over 12 million items such as books, journals, and articles across 75 disciplines. Great if you’re doing academic research.
  • Ancestry.com for your genealogical needs
  • Interlibrary loan (links to Michigan state ILL) can be tricky to find but it is available via your local and academic libraries. How does it work? You go to your home library and request a title they do not own and they will find it for you at a participating library. The book is then shipped to your home library and you get to check it out for 14 or 21 days or whatever. Once you’re done, you drop it off at your local library. MEL, for Michigan, is awesome because it is a separate website that allows you to login with your home library credentials, search for books and media like DVDs and CDs, and check them out and boom! Delivered to your home library to pick up. The ship time can be as little as a week or in Kentucky, as long as six weeks. Depends on where the book is coming from. You typically cannot check out ebooks.
  • WorldCat If you want to see which libraries have a copy of a book or if you just want to see where you’re home library is, WorldCat has you covered
    • You can also search for “city +library” (sans quotes) to find the local library for that area
  • Dictionaries and thesauruses such as Merriem-Webster, dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, and Oxford English Dictionary are great for the history of the word, other word options, various spellings, synonym,and antonyms. (Some sites like OED do have a subscription.)
  • ResearchGate for your scientific research
  • Google Scholar
  • PubMed provides thousands of articles in thousands of journals on the latest medical research which you can access for free
  • Academic libraries often provide, free of charge, day passes for non-students to use their materials
  • Museums and archives have libraries or collections you can request to visit for research
  • Smithsonian libraries and archives provides access to millions of digital objects and databases and journals
  • The following libraries will allow you to get a non-resident library card, for digital materials, for a small fee. This is especially helpful if you need access to a larger set of databases or digital materials. I have verified all these libraries.

Why Research is Important: A Study in Contrasts

Image of a stack of books with Do Your Research Part One

I’m a big fan of research. I mean, I even got a degree in it.

Thus, it really drives me crazy when I’m reading a book and it’s clear that there was little to no research was done.

Here is a contrast of what I mean:

women’s fiction book I read last week featured the hero and heroine in a tiny town in Michigan. The tiny town was located next to a larger city that does exist. The author took great pains to bring life to the general area by including real stores, places of interest, and things to do while weaving in her own things. The whole set-up was believable. I could buy her fake town existed. (I did some digging and the author went to a local college in Michigan so she presumably knows the area well.)

In contrast, the first book I started in a cozy mystery featured a small town next to the same larger city mentioned above. The author included one local flavor item and the rest was made up. The lack of real local flavor, and the glossing over of her own world, really burned me on the book. I did a do not finish (DNF) about 25% of the way through and promptly returned it to the library.

Now I know some may think that I’m being a bit obnoxious about this, but I hold firm in my stance. I know this area well as Mr. Scarlet and I have a cabin here and live there part-time. One of my books is placed in a small village near the same larger city and while the village will have its own flavor, the area flavor will be real and most importantly, believable.

Even fantasy stories, which are wholly (mostly) made up, have their own woes. I read a review of Travis Baldree’s Legends and Lattes recently where the reviewer noted that how could Viv open a coffee house with an obvious espresso machine when electricity did not exist in this world was one of the complaints. Readers notice these inconsistencies. It’s fine to make up your own world, just think about how it what you’re introducing can work.

The lack of research, or forethought into your story’s mechanics, is lazy writing. It also creates the lack of flavor and reality into your world making your story difficult to enjoy.

Do you want to be a lazy writer?

Next week, I talk about how to do research for your story.