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How to Research for a Book: 10 Tips for Non-fiction Authors

The prospect of writing a book can be daunting, and it is safe to assume that writing a non-fiction book can add to your stress levels, especially because you do not have the safety net of your creativity and imagination to rely on fully. Now, that’s not to say that non-fiction stories can’t be creative, just that it is a little more difficult to let the creative juices flow when the genre is meant to depict real historical figures and events.

We’ll review ten research tips to approach your non-fiction book idea.

Tip 1: Who Is the Book For?

You need first to decide who this book is for. Create a description of the kind of person you’d like to read your book. You may find it easier to begin writing your book when you’ve described your ideal reader because instead of talking to millions of people worldwide, you are writing for just one person.

Tip 2: Decide What Your Non-fiction Is About

You can go about this in various ways, but the short of it is that you need to find your story. We mean by this that you need to find out what historical period or figure you’re curious about and use this as your starting point. Using a historical figure or period you are curious about will make the research and writing processes more enjoyable.

Tip 3: What Is the Purpose of Your Book?

Answering this question, unfortunately, means having to ask more questions.

  • Why are you writing this book?

  • What do you want your audience to know about?

  • Is this book supposed to guide or inspire your readers?

  • What thoughts or emotions are you trying to leave your readers with after they’ve read your book?

These, by the way, are just some examples of questions that you need to ask yourself. Knowing the purpose of your book will make it easier to write.

Tip 4: Choose a Genre of Nonfiction

Narrative nonfiction or creative non-fiction is precisely as the name suggests - a genre of telling factual stories or recounting actual historical events creatively or compellingly. While creativity is emphasized with this writing style, you still need to remain as close to the truth as possible.

The expository genre of nonfiction writing is used to explain, define, or inform its readers. This can be considered a more manageable option between the two genres because, in an exposition, you are simply gathering information about a particular topic and presenting it.

So, you have determined the purpose of your book, and you’ve chosen a genre. Now, you must choose a subgenre – more specific categories of the broader narrative and expository genres.

Tip 5: Create an Outline

Okay, so you have your targeted reader, a purpose for your book, and a genre now, you must create an outline for your non-fiction book. An outline is vital for various reasons, among them, being that you’ll need an outline when you’re working on your book proposal, agents and editors require book outlines, and it will come in handy when you’re faced with writer’s block or procrastination.

Here’s why an outline will be your best friend:

  • It reduces the likelihood of plot holes

  • You’re better able to map out the flow of character’s emotions and the tone of the book

  • It’s a great way to avoid writer’s block and procrastination too

  • You might find that the writing process is taking up less time because you have a plan

  • It serves as a reference so your timeline is consistent

An outline is meant to help organize your thoughts, ideas, and resources for your book but be careful not to become a slave to your strategy – if you find yourself needing to add or remove parts from your manuscript, adjust your outline accordingly. Here at The Write Space, we work with authors to create a solid book outline before we start writing.

Tip 6: Make a Research Plan

You have to decide how to approach gathering information for your non-fiction book. You cannot rely on your memory alone to recount historical events or information about a historical figure, so it enters research. With the amount of information available on the internet, it only makes sense that research can be an overwhelming task, so it is best to plan on what mediums you will need for your book and how you will gather the information.

Some examples of research methods include:

  • Learn more with interviews with topic experts. You’ll get more specific information about a particular topic. You are responsible for ensuring that the people you’ve chosen are reliable – you can do this by checking their credentials and credibility.

  • Take advantage of Google Scholar. Including published, peer-reviewed research to your book can add credibility and weight to your arguments. It also shows that you're not making stuff up.

  • Explore search engines like Bing or Google. Search engines are beneficial because they deliver a high-quality search experience, and you’re more likely than not going to find relevant and reliable information.

  • Read at least five books on the topic you're writing about. Five voices can give you a wealth of shared ideas and divergent thoughts to explore with your readers. It also helps you position your book within the broader conversation.

Tip 7: Sort Through Your Research

Okay, now that you have all this research, you need to sort through it – this is also where your nonfiction outline will come in handy. Sorting through your research means deciding what information is needed in the book. Doing this will also make referring to your resources later easier. During this stage, you’d probably have collected a lot of information – anything that looked relevant or useful. Hence, you need to vet your information to make sure it's credible and relevant, and useful.

Tip 8: A Style Guide

A style guide is self-explanatory – a set of rules that will guide your writing style. It establishes the rules for writers and editors so that the content they create is consistent in tone and style. This ranges from the P.O.V. of the protagonist to more minor details like whether to write out numbers and how to write character descriptions to rules for grammar.

Being consistent in details like these can significantly improve your book.

A style guide will ensure that every piece of information in your book is clear, consistent, and ready for its readers.

A non-fiction style guide usually includes

  • Recommendations for grammar, spelling, and punctuation;

  • Guidelines for maintaining a consistent tone of voice in the book;

  • Book content formatting requirements like the font size, chapter title styles, and spacing; and

  • Additional tips to help external contributors or invited authors.

Here at The Write Space, we use the AP style guide as a starting point for all our clients. We take it upon ourselves to dive deep into your existing content so that we’re better able to emulate your style – we’ll make sure your readers won’t be able to tell the difference between the book.

Tip 9: Have a Writing Schedule

Determine how much time you want to or can dedicate to your book and stick to it. Many writers can delay starting their books because they intentionally prolong their research. It could also be helpful if you figure out what your distractions and triggers are so that when you’re in your writing space, you can keep those distractions and motivations to a minimum.

Tip 10: Read Books

A great writer is also a great reader. Get your hands on as many books in your subgenre as possible, so you understand your chosen subgenre and its conventions and expectations. This way, you’re exposed to various forms of telling the same story and other writing styles that could inspire you to get out of your comfort zone.

Bring Your Vision to Life

We understand just how tedious research is. Still, it is vital for establishing your credibility in the literary field and an essential aspect of building a relationship of trust with your readers – that seems like a reward. Always break your work up into manageable sizes, so you do not get overwhelmed, and remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you follow these steps, you’ll find yourself immersed in the research process and ready to write.

And if you have great ideas and are not interested in actually writing the book, then that’s what we’re here for – psst, we offer ghost-writing services too, so let’s see how we can help bring your vision to life.

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