Research Pitfalls for Writers

I haven’t met many writers who say they don’t love research. The well-heeled (or maybe credit card maxed?) writer goes on international junkets, walks where kings and queens walked, sees the world. Even more modest researchers spend hours poring over books, tapes, Wikipedia. Research does play an important part of writing–especially writing outside one’s direct experience. But BEWARE!
Writing Tip for Today: What are some research pitfalls and how do you escape them?

  • Avoid the Time Suck. This is probably the worst problem of research–it’s so fascinating that you could keep on finding out stuff forever. Really cool stuff! But take a look at your past month’s writing activities. What percentage is research, drafting and/or revising, marketing, platform-building? In my opinion, a writer who spends more than a quarter of her time in research just may be avoiding the writing. Try to balance your writing time, and if anything, err on the side of too much writing. 
  • Use a Placeholder. As I draft my work, I often run into things I don’t know the names of, or should fact check. In order to keep myself from being sucked into nonstop research, I often use this acronym: SSLT, which stands for Some Stuff Like That. When I do research, I can global search my document for “SSLT” so I don’t forget to find the info I need.
  • Beware the Know-it-all Attitude.As writers, we often find out a ton of valuable and interesting info or background about our topics. But does that mean we need to include every scrap of knowledge in the work itself? Writers who cram every possible detail into their manuscript or try to educate readers may get the unpleasant surprise of disengaged readers. Give your readers credit for being able to figure things out. Paint a picture but don’t be anal about it. Leave your teaching chops in the classroom. The same holds true for preaching, soapbox oratories or lectures. You don’t have to impress your readers that you know everything.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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