One of the questions I often get asked by writers who are in the writing (or planning) process is how much research they need to do for their book.
The amount of research you need depends on two things:
- Your knowledge as an author, and
- The subject of your book.
1. Your knowledge as an author
The more knowledge you have on your book’s subject, the less research you will need to do to write a well-rounded book.
So, if you’re an entrepreneur with fifteen years of experience in your field and you’re writing a book about your industry, you wouldn’t need to do much. You already have fifteen years of knowledge in your head just waiting to be organised into chapters.
Likewise, if you have a PHD in history and you want to write a novel set in your favourite period, then you won’t have to do much more research to create a realistic backdrop for your plot.
By contrast, if you’re relatively new to your field or you want to write a historical drama with a vague knowledge of the time and place you’ve chosen, then you’ll need to do some more research (more on how to research next week). How much? Enough for you to feel comfortable that you can do your subject matter justice, but not so much that it stops you from ever writing your book.
Essentially, you should have an idea for your book before you start writing. As you’re planning, you’ll figure out a basic structure. The amount of research you do should be enough for you to fill out that structure with enough detail for you to start writing. However, if you get stuck for weeks trying to find a certain statistic, or to figure out exactly what the buttons on your character’s shoes are called, you’re going too far. Leave a blank space, move on, and come back to it once you’ve finished your first draft.
2. The subject of your book
If your book is about a real-world subject, or features real-world details, then you’ll need to do some research for accuracy.
From a non-fiction perspective, if you’re writing a guide to search engine optimisation, then you’ll need to include factual information about how SEO works, and proven strategies that people can use to optimise their sites. (Your knowledge as an author will impact the amount of research you’ll have to do, but you’ll still need to do some research, even if that’s just reviewing your own experience.)
Likewise, if you’re writing that historical drama, if you want it to be accurate, you’ll need to research the details.
By contrast, if you’re creating your own world, or you’re penning an extended rant, you won’t need to research. When your writing is coming entirely from your imagination and opinions, then you don’t need external input on your subject matter. However, when you are the creative force behind all of your words, things can sometimes become a little shallow or repetitive, which is why many authors choose to research, even if they don’t need to.
And there you have it! All authors need to do some research, the amount depends on their existing knowledge as an author, as well as the subject matter they’ve chosen for their book. As a general rule, you need enough research to be able to flesh out your plan and write your first draft without any gaping holes, but not so much that you use it as a way to put off getting your writing done.
When it comes to how to research your book, check out this post on three ways to research your book.