Vision: A Resource f

 Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Keeping Your Research Researchable

By Desiree A. McCracken
© 2005,
Desiree A. McCracken


Have you ever lost a piece of research? One of those notes written on a scrap of paper (usually the back of an envelope or a bar napkin)? Research: a long and arduous process no matter what the subject matter, one that makes me pull my hair out on occasion.

Even simple subjects can require multiple references and for those who write historical fiction the references can become astronomical. Keeping up with the material can become a job in itself.

I tried a number of different ways of keeping up with material, from copying the pages to putting sticky tabs in the books to creating a database. Unfortunately, none of them were workable for me. I wound up losing (or mixing up) the pages I had copied; the dogs ate the sticky tabs; and I would consistently forget to update the database. Not to mention the time involved.

Then I developed a more useful way of keeping track of research. The first thing I do is construct a list of needed information. I start from the most general and work my way down. If I am working on a piece that requires research before I start, such as an article, this also helps with brainstorming. For fiction, I may start the list but not do the actual research until I am further into the writing of the manuscript. That way I can add any other needed topics that come up during the actual writing phase.

To keep track of the material, I find that the easiest way for me is to note it directly in the manuscript. That way if I need to go back to double check a fact, I have the book, the page number and where I found the book right there in the manuscript. It looks something like this: (Untitled, Main Library, page 48).

Be cautious; noting directly in the manuscript has only worked for me when I have only one or two reference books to keep track of. In my experience this only works for short stories or smaller articles. For a novel or a longer article I follow the next option.

If I have a lot of material, too much to fit in a note to myself, I keep a running list on a separate piece of paper or in a small notebook beside my computer.

I list the page number in the manuscript, the reference material used, whether or not it is hard copy or internet information, the website or library the information came from and the page number for the material.

For example:

Untitled, Page 23

Writerís Digest, December 1999

Magazine, Personal Library, page 18

An example of website information looks like this:

Untitled, Page 32


This permits me to easily access the information without digging through a multitude of scraps of paper (which I tend to accumulate while writing) and also to verify any information at a later date if necessary. I file the list with a copy of my manuscript.

I have also used this notebook method while in the middle of a first draft. I put the page number of the manuscript, asterisks in the manuscript body and a note to myself about what I need to research. When the first draft is done (or I have to stop because I canít go any further without the information), I have a list of things to look up. This can save valuable time as the research can be done in one chunk instead of in starts and stops.

These tips have saved me a lot time and aggravation on more than one occasion; I hope they help you as well.