Research On the Go
By D. M. Bonanno
Not enough time for research? Only if
you're a writer who believes research is conducted by spending hour after
hour digging through library stacks, piling the books around yourself and
reading until your eyes are threatening to leap from their sockets.
Information can be effectively absorbed in small doses, sitting down or on
the go, and in ways that may surprise you. You've made the time to write;
now you need to find the time to research.
"I have friendships to maintain."
By all means socialize, but
realize that sometimes the waiting part of a meeting is an incredible waste
of time. Don't meet at the coffee shop, where you can spend fifteen to
twenty minutes standing around; meet at the library. Sure there's no latte,
but there are reference books and specialized encyclopedias to browse.
Take an interest in your friends' lives.
They possess a wealth of information which they impart to you when they
complain about work, rant about other problems, and celebrate important life
events. There's also the direct approach, where you ask them about their
experiences and philosophies. Many people enjoy talking about themselves,
and won't mind answering your questions.
"My children require supervision."
Family trips to the museum can
both entertain children and fulfill your research needs. Museums are
visually oriented in design but appeal to other senses as well. The Shedd
Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois has a tank that allows visitors to pet the
starfish. The Museum of Science and Industry, also in Chicago, once
exhibited the interior of an early passenger aircraft which visitors were
allowed to walk through. Experiences such as these can be valuable for your
"I'm not in good health."
How much time have you wasted
in doctors' waiting rooms? Go ahead, pick up a magazine while you wait, but
skip your favorites. Select one you normally wouldn't read. Unfamiliar
subjects will stimulate your mental processes, or bore you beyond tears.
These pieces may introduce an aspect of life for your characters, or provide
sources for your nonfiction writing. If you dislike or disagree with an
article, write a better one.
"I barely have time for errands."
Check-out lines are a blessing
in disguise. Whether you're at a supermarket, hardware or craft store, not
only will you be able to observe other people and their reactions to their
environment, you can 'check out' the items that are marketed to this crowd:
candy racks and gossip magazines at the grocery store; screwdriver and home
improvement knick knacks at the hardware store; hobby magazines at the craft
store. From these items alone, you can now list brand names for items you
normally wouldn't purchase, or you may be ready to develop your character's
skills based on a hobby you studied while waiting in that line.
"I manage a busy household."
Place books and magazines in
strategic locations so you can reference them during short breaks.
In the garage or car, while the vehicle
warms up and windows defrost.
In the bathroom, while shower water
heats and bathtubs drain.
In the kitchen, while the oven preheats
or bagels toast.
By the door, while family members tie
shoes and search for wallets and eyeglasses and hit the bathroom one last
In your purse or jacket pocket, to
eliminate the need to choose a book to take with you on the go.
Preparation Is Half The Battle
Library time should be used carefully.
Whether you're supervising children or working solo, spend this time
researching your topic on library computers. Make a list of the books you'd
like to borrow. If one isn't available at your local branch, you don't need
to chase all over town; your librarian may be able to have it sent to your
branch or you may be able to order it yourself through the computer
catalog. Another benefit of the computer catalog is renewal via the
internet or telephone, saving a half hour trip back to the library.
Once your list is made, you can work off
it for some time. Choose several books to check out; then the rest of your
library time should be devoted to reference books, those wonderfully thick
specialized encyclopedias that weigh thirty-two pounds each. Work out of a
dedicated notebook, marking page numbers if you prefer reading in order. If
your method is to search out concepts, use the index and map the appropriate
pages in the notebook or lead index card.
Choose your tools carefully. Index cards
make great bookmarks because they double as notepaper. Notebooks are
available in a variety of sizes and styles to fit in easy to access places.
Pens with retractable points save you the trouble of searching for lost caps
and cleaning up ink spots.
Can You Find Time For Your Research?
Create your own research opportunities by
studying your day and week. Identify waiting or wasted time that can be
dedicated to reading a page or a single paragraph. Even reading a few
sentences increases your knowledge. Balance your sources, understand your
responsibilities, and you'll find the time.