Imagine if Google didn’t exist, how would you research? Do you rely on it to get most of the information you need to write articles, eBooks or novels?
I rely heavily on Google. But as I was busy researching for a project I thought about my dependency on this search engine. What would I do if I lived in another country, had to write for a living and didn’t have access to Google?
I also pictured another scenario. How did the writers who had to research before Google existed managed? They used methods that didn’t involve sitting down and making Google their best researching friend.
Sometimes, you need to give Google a break, move away from the computer screen, get off your chair and do something different.
So let’s look at how we can leave Google out the picture and still research. I must warn you that some of the tips I’m about to share may take some leg work.
1. Visiting your local library or other public libraries
The libraries hold a wealth of information. They house various books, articles, bibliographies and reference books. Librarians are there to help you and recommend the best material for your use.
Take your notebook, highlighter pens for marking photocopies and biro pens when you visit.
Organize your research. Make a list of the main topics and break them down into small sections. It will be easier if you know exactly what you’re going to research.
Plan your time carefully. You could easily end up spending half a day there. Try to do as much research as possible.
Most libraries have reference sections or archival materials. In the reference sections you will have access to local history, encyclopedias, information on most subjects, dictionaries, maps and other resources.
Archival materials contain manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, artifacts, diaries etc. It’s possible that you’ll be able to copy some of the documents. But you may need permission.
Browsing through the catalogue or reference sections may give you lots of ideas for writing articles or eBooks. Use your notebook to jot down ideas.
2. Browsing through newspapers and collecting cuttings for your file
Newspapers are a great source of ideas for articles and eBooks. They’re cheap, some are free and you can pick one up anywhere. They have lots of information in one place.
If you’re writing about fashion, food, politics, current world/local news, cars, entertainment, sports, the economy or more, you can use the newspaper for research. You’ll also get up to date information.
If you’re stuck for topic ideas for your blog, look out for interesting stories or features. When you find a useful article, news item, advert or press release that’s relevant to your niche, cut it out. Start a cuttings file. Use a folder to organize them in order so that you can find the information easily when needed.
Most newspapers are also available online. I used an online newspaper to research for an article I wrote for my blog. It was a topic that was shown on the television about sexualizing our young daughters.
3. Observing people
People are a research topic in themselves. You can get so many topics by being observant when you’re out and about.
I wrote an article ‘Are we Living in a Selfish Society’ which was based on an unusual man on the train one morning as I travelled to work. His selfish behavior was so peculiar that it affected most of the people in the carriage. The article idea came to me as I listened to the way he responded to the other travelers.
If you’re into writing fiction or short story, ideas can come from sitting in a café or the park.
This is an example of how you can put your research into action. Visit a café for lunch or dinner. Get a seat near the door so that you’ll be able to see people as they enter and leave. Choose an interesting looking man, woman, teenager or child. Observe them discreetly for a few minutes. How are they dressed? Can you hear their conversation? Are they happy, sad, depressed? What did their behavior tell you about them? What did they eat? Were they alone?
Jot down some quick bullet points about them in your notebook. When you go home, use your notes as a base to write a short story. Or if you can, write an article for your blog from your researched observation. If you observed an emotional woman. You could use that as an idea to write about the difference between men and women’s emotions.
4. Visiting travel agents and using maps
You don’t have to travel out of the country to get research material for a travel article or ideas for your novel. Travel agents have lots of free brochures. If you tell them what you’re looking for, they will help you find it. Get as much information as you can about the destination you’ll be writing about.
Maybe you’re writing about Jamaica for example, the brochures will have images of the scenery, hotels, climate, food and maybe some historical facts. Use that information to draft your article.
If you’re writing a novel and your character is a traveler, a map will be useful for checking distance and roads.
5. Interviewing for information
Using interview as a method for research is great to get first-hand specialized knowledge from people. Most people are happy to talk about their life, career, hobbies or experiences.
You might think it’s easier to research a person on Google because it’s less hassle than interviewing them. But, it’s more effective if you put in the time and plan an interview. If you haven’t got time to interview them, a simple polite email with the right questions will do.
In one of my research projects, I needed some information from a freelance writer. I wasn’t able to get all the facts from Google. So I emailed her with some questions. She told me what I needed to know. In fact, that email made a connection between us. Since then she has visited my blog and left comments on some of my articles. And I’ve done the same on her blog.
Before you interview someone, make sure you do some planning. Put together a list of relevant questions. What gaps do you have in your knowledge that they can fill? If you’re not properly prepared, you’ll waste their time and yours.
Interviews can take place over the telephone, on Skype, by writing a letter or face-to-face. It’s a great research method that can bring useful contacts into your life.
We’ve looked at different methods of researching for your writing. Next time you need information, try one of them. You will find it much more interesting than just relying on Google. Your writing life will be enriched. You will probably meet some interesting people and make new friends as you go out and about researching.
Have you got any unique ways of researching that you would like to share? Or have you tried any of the research methods above?
June Whittle is a blogger and freelance writer and also a WritersinCharge team member. She has two personal blogs that she manages and writes for. She is working on her first fiction novel and eBook. She has edited two books and transcribed sermons from audio CDs for a local church.
Please stop by my main blog to find out some more about me.