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Researching a Novel



Many people dream of writing a novel. Some even start writing, only to give up a few pages in. In truth, it’s hard work and nothing like we imagine. That is to say, modern authors don’t normally sit at a mahogany desk, gazing out over a scenic vista as they write their manuscript, ink on vellum. Quite the contrary. These days, most authors type their manuscript on a computer using a program such as MS Word or Scrivener. It makes life easy because you can copy and paste text, organize your chapters, and add in research notes to help remind you of important details.

But before you get to the stage where you are ready to start writing your novel, you may need to do some research. You could potentially research as you write, but it’s often better to get this stage out of the way first, especially if your novel is research heavy. There are several ways to do this.

Online Research

Firstly, the internet is a modern author’s savior. How did we manage without Google at our fingertips? Back in the day, encyclopedias were a go-to resource for most people. Today, the only place you’ll find an encyclopedia is in the library – and you may not even spot them there!

Luckily, times have moved on and we now have the internet and its vast resources at our disposal. Type in a search query and you’ll be inundated with information. Much of it useless, it’s fair to say, but there are some golden nuggets out there if you look hard enough.

For example, if I was writing about a character who enjoyed Cuban cigars, I would look online to see where to buy them. Apparently, ordering Cuban cigars in the US is easy, so my character could smoke Cuban cigars and it wouldn’t seem out of place in the context of a US-based plot.

However, whilst the internet is an author’s best friend, you have to take everything you read with a pinch of salt. Much of the content online isn’t verified and, therefore, not factually correct. Always fact-check before you assume something you read is correct, which brings me to my next point.

Speak to Experts

It’s always sensible to speak to experts if you need to know more. For example, if I was writing a story with a psychological theme, I might consult a psychologist to learn more about a character’s psychological issues. I could research online, but this might not give me the level of detail I needed. The same applies to crime novels. After all, unless you are very familiar with the criminal justice system, you probably won’t know enough to write a plausible crime thriller.


If any part of your book is based in a location you’re not familiar with, travel there. Make notes, take photos, and research the history of the area. The more facts you include in your novel, the more authentic it will feel.

Keep all your notes, photos, press clippings, etc., index-linked in a binder or on your computer. That way, it will be nice and easy to find the snippets of information you need when you get stuck into the writing process.