On Research

Photo Credit: From PublicDomainPictures.net

There are so many amazing interviews with authors out there–including a ton of advice that authors have collected on their site in FAQ pages. Some of that advice is from authors who are no longer with us.

I’ve collected some of that advice in these posts, and organized them by topic. It’s a quick way to see some of the great advice out there on a particular subject, but if you want even more advice and great interviews, click on the links beside each quote.

Here, I’ve collected together quotes for the topic: “On Research.”


It’s important for authors to use the Web responsibly. More than half the information out there is garbage. And it’s important to realize that just because it’s on the Web doesn’t mean that it’s a fact. I like to use the Web as an inspirational tool to get ideas and then when you actually go to do your research get your actual information elsewhere. There are some major books that were published and had to be edited later because of faulty research. Anybody with a computer can post a webpage and tell you that they know everything about everything.”

Dan Brown, Writers Write Interview


With Kindred, I did go to Maryland and spend some time. Well, I mostly spent my time at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and at the Maryland Historical Society. I also went to the Eastern Shore to Talbot County, to Easton actually, and just walked around, wandered the streets and probably looked fairly disreputable. I didn’t have any money at the time, so I did all my traveling by Greyhound and Trailways and I stayed at a horrible dirty little hotel…i twas kind of frightening really…I didn’t know what I was doing…Anyway, I went down to Washington, D.C. and took a Grayline bus tour of Mount Vernon and that was as close as I could get to a plantation. Back then they had not rebuilt the slave cabins and the tour guide did not refer to slaves but to “servants” and there was all this very carefully orchestrated dancing around the fact that it had been a slave plantation. But still I could get the layout, I could actually see things, you know, the tools used, the cabins that had been used for working. That, I guess, was the extent of my away from home research on Kindred. I did a lot more at the libraries.”

Octavia Butler, Speculative Fictions Interview


I do quite a bit of research before I start a project, then stop for a while because I have to take a step away from history and write a novel. When I’m done with a first draft, I go back again and do a great deal more research. So I think I do kind of a layered research; I keep going back and doing more and more, but I’m still focused on the fact that I’m writing a novel, not a history. Research can be never-ending. Especially with The Dovekeepers, I realized that. That book took me five years to research and write. There was a point when I realized that I could research it for the rest of my life. I was never going to know everything about the time period. There was a point when I just decided to start writing.”

Alice Hoffman, Writer Mag Interview


I have no ‘methods’ at all—I simply read where my interest takes me. In researching Blonde, I read one or two biographies of Marilyn Monroe and watched all the movies of hers which I could locate—in chronological order. It was an utterly captivating sort of research, which I wish I could repeat with another subject.”

Joyce Carol Oates, Nightmare Magazine Interview


It’s tempting to want to use every single fact you discover. It’s all so interesting to the author, but to the reader it can end up feeling like the author is merely showing off her knowledge. I found it easiest to put in too much in the first draft and then to go through and edit. I have pages and pages of descriptions of theater shows, sporting events, and social news that were never used. The fun part of this is that I feel like I have secrets about characters and places in the novel.”

Jennifer Brown, Huffington Post Interview


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