How important is research in the novel? - Writer's Digest

How important is research in the novel?

Publish date:

Many beginning writers know a novel is a work of imagination, but seem unaware that the factual material in a novel must be as accurate as that in a nonfiction work. The fiction writer uses the same research tools as the nonfiction writer—particularly sources on the period he is writing about, whether he’s writing a Regency romance or a novel set in 1930s New York. And the research must be carefully woven into the story, not dropped in awkwardly in a way that interrupts the flow. Study good novels to see how research is integrated, or read interviews with novelists to see how they approach it.

Identifying research needs is a very project-specific task. The best time to do this is during the initial outlining stage. As you add each scene, make a note of any research required to complete that step. Managing the results of your research requires good note-taking and leaving yourself a retraceable path back to the source. For information gleaned from printed sources, make a photocopy of the material itself and be sure to note the source title, publisher, publication date, the page numbers (if they don’t appear on the copy), and where you physically located the source. Keeping this information right on the copy will help you document your work and locate the source again, should that become necessary. If you’re doing research online, print out relevant pages and make sure that the Web site appears on your printout. Bookmark any sources you think you’ll return to often.

This tip was taken from the Beginning Writer's Answer Book

Beginning Writer's Answer Book is for the writer just starting out, for the person who writes for a hobby and doesn't consider himself a real "writer," and the writer who's mastered one area and has questions about other genres or forms. At a hefty 432 pages, in this book you will: Find core knowledge for all writers such as everyday publishing jargon, understanding the markets and queries, how to format and submit your work, standard practices and more Address book, magazine and freelance basics such as the essentials every novelist needs to know, selling nonfiction work, writing and selling articles, and starting a freelance career Become familiar with copyright basics, understanding your rights, rules for quoting, seeking permission, providing photographs and art and if you should use a pen name Move into the more highly specialized questions of writing poetry, children's books, scripts, songs, writing for newspapers, and self-publishing

Whether you write for business or pleasure, this is the book that provides the answers you need to know in order to be taken seriously in the writing world. Learn more about the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book!

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The 3 Prime Rules of Horror Writing, Contest Deadlines, and More!

Welcome to the first installment of a new series! There's always so much happening in the Writer's Digest universe that even staff members have trouble keeping up. So we're going to start collecting what's on the horizon to make it easier for everyone to know what's happening and when.


Lenora Bell: When Fairy Tales Meet Reality TV

Bestselling historical romance author Lenora Bell discusses researching, avoiding info-dumps while still charming readers, and how her latest book was inspired by her life.


Three Keys to Crafting Chemistry Between Characters

Romance author Michelle Major explains her three go-to tips for ensuring your characters have believable chemistry.

Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

Take Two: Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

No one wants to break the bank to learn how to write a screenplay. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares practical tips on saving money on the pursuit of a screenwriting career.


10 Epic Quotes From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Here are 10 epic quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The story of a group of rabbits who escape an impending danger to find a new home, Watership Down is filled with moments of survival, faith, friendship, fear, and hope.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Quintilla Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the quintilla.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.


Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.


The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.