Six Tips for Researching Like a Pro by Vikki J. Carter

As a Librarian and an author, I marvel at how the world of information gathering has changed.

That was one reason I chose to become a Librarian in the Google decade. I enjoy helping others clear the noise around them. I cherish encouraging authors to develop reliable, realistic, and powerful researching techniques that allow them to become experts in their work. Researching a new topic around my current work is thrilling. I find it challenging, engaging, and inspiring.

I know that not all authors feel the same about researching. For most, it is time-consuming. For many, it is overwhelming. I am often asked for tips to help authors manage their researching projects around the writing process.


The most important tip I give is to research the smart way.

I encourage authors to go beyond “Googling” or using Wikipedia. Google and Wikipedia are a decent starting point but don’t stop there. Develop new skills by learning how to access your local library databases or become a part of a historical society. Being an informed author will only lend to your work, and ability to find avenues to promote your work beyond your social media.


Additionally, I like to share six tips with authors :

1.) Keep It Simple: if you are setting out to do specific research around a work in progress, it is wise to stop and write down a particular question you need to answer. If you keep that question in mind as you are researching, you are more likely to find success!

Stick to that one topic, despite all the fantastic ideas that come to you as you are conducting your research. Collecting a little bit of research each session moves you closer to becoming a skilled researcher while giving you space to not become overwhelmed.


2.) Take Excellent Notes: Being organized is the key to successful researching. To keep your mind focused on the topic and to help you collect excellent resources, make sure you are prepared to take outstanding notes.

Employ technology to assist you. There are many note-taking tools that you can use for free that will help you collect the information you need for your work. I use Evernote which allows me to organize my notes, take screenshots, and access my notes from any device. I also use Scrivener. Not only is Scrivener useful for writing drafts, it is a helpful tool for keeping relevant resources handy during the writing process.

It is important to remember to create a separate note for each new topic ideas that develops as you are working on your “simple question.” By doing so, you ensure you can remember new ideas while providing yourself a starting point for when you have time to dive deeper into them.

Here are standard note taking techniques that are taught in higher education that you can apply to your research note-taking. These techniques are readily adaptable for handwriting notes or digital note taking. Don’t forget to collect citations of the works you are referencing. You may need them in the future. Here is a beautiful (and reliable) digital tool that helps you collect the correct information in a citation.


3.) Set a Time Limit for Each Research Session: Once you have your simple question developed, set a time limit to each researching session.

Give yourself enough time to track down good resources, as well as enough time to write your notes. But most importantly, stick to the time limit. Holding to your research time limit allows you to have the space you need to work on the writing process with the new knowledge you uncovered.

Don’t forget to set additional dates for any follow-up researching sessions. Before the researching session is complete, place follow-up session on your calendar. By doing so, you will be likely to have time for additional research as well as reminders to conduct follow-up research.

I like to think of researching sessions as interviews with experts. When I think of resources as experts I am interviewing, I remember to set a calendar date to circle back to the “experts” if I need more information. Such a mindset helps to frame my “interviews” or research sessions around the next needed information to move me along my writing project.


4.) Employ Help: There is nothing wrong with seeking help. Connect with your local Librarian. They are information specialists.

Before you contact your local Librarian,  take a moment to write down your topic, what you have already found, and what you are looking for additionally. By having a clear idea of what you are looking for will help them expedite your request and not duplicate what you already have located.

Contact an expert in the field, and set a time to talk with them about your question. There are many societies, museums, and regional historical groups that specialize on topics. If you are having troubles with finding the right group or individual to contact, ask your Librarian.

Don’t be limited by your region. With the digital age, you can have discussions with an expert over the phone regardless of your location. Planning ahead and being prepared with a recording method will help you be successful with interviewing experts. As long as you secure prior permission to record your conversation for future note taking, you should be fine. I use a conference room to record my interviews for my podcast called Zoom, but Skype is another method. Here is an excellent article regarding additional recording methods.

Don’t forget to employ the power of your children and grandchildren for help when searching for resources online. They are more than likely digital natives who can find interesting fact or obscure knowledge within seconds using their smart phones. When employing help, make sure you document your resource helpers. It will save you time when you write the acknowledgments page for your work.


5.) Explore Untraditional Resources: Do not be afraid to look at alternative resources such as movies, podcasts, reading books outside your genre, or Pinterest.

Almost anything can help generate more ideas for you to research or lead you on a different vain in your current project.


6.) Combat Information Overload: Finally, if you feel overwhelmed with your researching efforts, hit the pause button. Take a moment to stop researching and get back to writing.

It is common while working on a topic to feel the pressure of information overload. I often find myself having my blood pressure rise, and anxiety hit high levels when I start to feel overloaded. I get the feeling that “if I do not get it all now, it will go away.” It will not go away. The resources will still be there. Give yourself a break. Walk away after you finalize your notes. Come back to it another day. Set up a calendar date to revisit the research project. You may be amazed at what you discover with a refreshed look at your researching efforts!

Researching while writing can be manageable and inspiring. Most importantly, if you can harness a few techniques, you may even find researching fun as you develop into an expert!

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Vikki J. Carter is the proud producer of Authors of the Pacific Northwest, a weekly podcast for authors who are interested in learning how to be successful in the publishing industry! She is a certified Washington State Professional Librarian. She works full-time as a faculty member for a national online university. Vikki also runs, SquishPen Productions, a company that focuses on helping writers learn from published authors the tips of the trade so they too can succeed in such a competitive field. Determined to publish her own writings, Vikki has two books in the works. The first is part of a series centered in the Elizabethan-era in England that takes readers deep into the clashing world of a woman’s choice for love. Vikki’s second book is a fiction work that follows a young couple’s chaotic relationship as they struggle with the not so glamorous realities of pursuing fame in rock-n-roll.
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  • January 11, 2019
Helpful Vikki. I especially like the idea of setting time limits. Thanks for posting!

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