By 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.
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
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
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).
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.
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
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.
Untitled, Page 23
Writerís Digest, December 1999
Magazine, Personal Library, page 18
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.
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.