#WRITINGTIP: Doing Your Research

Today’s #Tuesdaytip is about research. It’s a question I often get asked... how do I do it? So, here goes…

Research can make or break a book. If you get important facts wrong, it can pull people out of your story (and you never want that to happen!). Here is a list of four things you can do, beyond the obvious internet searching, some free, some cost money, to ensure mistakes don’t happen.

1. Reach out to your network.

Sometimes it’s easy. My next-door-neighbor is an oncologist, so every time I had a question in Cujo’s story, I’d simply knock on the door. I send all kinds of random messages out. For example, “Anybody know how brain slice samples can be acquired?” (for Louisa in UNDER FIRE), was passed from friend-to-friend until I found a researcher who uses brain samples. “Hey, I’m writing a Navy SEAL series, does anybody know any?”,  got me a message from a friend whose husband’s roommate in college was a retired Commander in the US Navy  … and that’s how I found myself on the beach in San Diego watching the latest recruits carrying logs up and down the sand dunes during BUD/s. You’ll be surprised who your friends know. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon and all that!

2. Reach out to strangers.

For Lennon’s story, I reached out to an American, living in France, who had started a YouTube channel the same year after facing a very similar surgery to the one Lennon underwent (yes, I’m being vague for those who haven’t read LENNON REBORN yet!). I contacted him through Instagram and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions to help me write a character accurately and he was more than willing.

3. Be prepared for expert interviews.

When I was put in contact with an Advanced Practice Nurse in the burns unit at Sick Kids Children’s hospital to research for Daniel’s character in ELLIOTT REDEEMED, I had a very detailed list of specific questions. I did on-line research ahead of time to ensure I only asked the questions I really needed to understand. Many times, the expert interviews provide color commentary to facts you already know. So, for example, I knew contextually what a burns dressing take-down looked like, but it was the minor details such as would his mom be allowed to be there? Would Daniel be medicated? Does it happen in his room, or in a surgical room?

4. Read non-fiction books about the topic

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For my LOVE OVER DUTY series, I read lots of non-fiction, from operative autobiographies to investigative exposés on the arms trade. For my First Nations character, Nik, in NIKAN REBUILT, I read extensively about First Nations issues in Canada (see link below). The incredible bi-product of both of these topics is how much my world view changed by reading them. I prefer to buy them so I can mark them up, but they are often available for order at your local library.


The list isn’t meant to be extensive by any means, but I hope it helps you get started.