Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Process Examination #2: Research

Writing research can be a tricky thing. As I mentioned in a different post, writers really need to absorb and understand as much information about this world as their brains can possibly retain. We may tell lies for a living, but we get paid and remembered on how believable those lies are. The more you know about how things work, the more real your constructed lie will be.

So writers tend to do a lot of research for any project. My background in science has primed me well for this aspect of writing. I'm used to reading material that may often be thick and dry to glean a few pieces of information necessary for the task at hand. The good thing with research for writing is that you can usually wander far and wide into any topic and get interesting facts to tuck away for later use. This is also the downside of research for writing as well as you can lost in researching something and end up using none of it for the current project and thus feel like you've wasted hours.

My current problem with research is that I have two main topics to read up on: economics (and business culture in general) and space colonization. The former isn't all that scintillating, but it's very very very important for the world I'm building. The latter is absolutely riveting to me, and therefore capable of distracting me from the task at hand.

Then there's the perils of the research medium that's easiest to use: the Internet. You can very quickly scan through information, pick up some facts, refine a search further and dig deeper into a topic. You can also link-hop all over the place, looking for that elusive tidbit or that alternate presentation that's going to make everything click for you. This is where I fall down on the lessons learned from science research past. I haven't trained myself to document my research logic leaps in any searchable (to me, even) way. So I often have to repeat my research to make sense of a note I scratched down or to figure out just what I was thinking when I created a certain worldbuilding element. This has got to stop.

But documenting what I'm researching on-line is going to slow me down. Plus, I'm reluctant to commit something to paper when another link will give me better information on the same topic (or more reliable information). I think what I need to start doing is summarizing my research trips on the 'net better. Just document the overall sense of what I figured out and the major places where I found the info.

The problem isn't systemic, though. If my research leads directly to worldbuilding elements such as a calendar or a backstory timeline or some other concrete idea that has direct application to my current picture of the novel, then I scratch it down as I go (though I don't usually cite my source). It's the stuff that I've done reading on that didn't lead directly to an applicable thought that's got me worried. I think, though, that if I go through my notebook and make an effort to organize the information there into an electronic format of some sort that a lot more of my research booty will shake loose. But that leads into my next process examination: Rarin' to Go.


Timber Beast said...

I recommend Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist) http://www.timharford.com/ for everyday economics. His book was fun to read and made econ understandable.


Kellie said...

Thanks for the rec. I'll have to pick that up.