Keeping Track of Your Sources (So You Won't Lose Your Mind Later) by Wendy Hinote Lanier
Writing nonfiction can feel a bit like writing a research paper. You may have a great time finding interesting tidbits to include in your writing, but if you can’t locate them a second time, they don’t do you much good. And if the old index cards and file box solution doesn’t work for you (it didn’t work in high school so it probably doesn’t now), I’ve got a better solution.
Back in the day, writing a bibliography was tedious and usually took almost as long as it took to write a paper. Thanks to the age of computers and the internet, this is no longer the case. Bibliographical generators online make it easy to create a list of your sources in whatever style you choose with the click of a mouse.
And these online generators can do more than just create your final bibliography. They can also help you verify your information to an editor or fact checker long after you have moved on to another project.
Start by creating a new bibliography for your project before you even begin to write. As you research, enter the bibliographical information into a generator for all of your sources. (You can delete entries later if you find that you didn’t use one.) Use your newly created bibliography to footnote your project as you write using the footnote feature in Word. Then copy and paste the appropriate entry from your bibliography into the footnotes.
Even if you don’t have to turn in a footnoted copy of your project to your editor, save a footnoted copy for yourself. At some point someone may ask where you found a particular piece of information. A quick look at your footnoted copy will tell you what you need to know without having to retrace your research steps.
Some bibliographical generators:
Citefast.com – www.citefast.com
Grammarly.com – www.grammarly.com/citations
EasyBib – www.easybib.com
Bibme – www.bibme.org
Cite4Me – www.cite4me.org/bibliography
For more information about nonfiction research see my video “Research for Nonfiction and More” and other videos from Nonfiction Ninja members at Serious Writer Academy on line. www.seriouswriteracademy.com
You’ve done your research, written your nonfiction manuscript but you still have lots of little tidbits of information left over. What can you do with it?
An Author’s Note lets you tell “the rest of the story”, fill in gaps, and provide extra information that just didn’t fit into the main text.
But you don’t have to stop there! Here are twelve more ways to use your extra research:
Don’t let those quirky, fascinating little bits of information go to waste. Find a unique way to include them – somewhere, somehow!
Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. One of my favorite sources of writerly inspiration is museums. I find all types of museums interesting, whether they are big or small, local or national, low or high tech, or broad or narrow in scope.
Why are museums great for inspiring ideas for writing nonfiction?
Even if I don't write about something I see in a museum, I always
learn something unexpected,
exercise my curiosity,
practice my observation skills, and
ponder questions & answers.
I experience the wonder of contemplating something new — just like children do every day.
“I can’t write nonfiction. I’m not an expert.”
“Research scares me.”
“What if I get it wrong?”
Do any of these excuses sound familiar? Well, I am here to say there is nothing to fear from nonfiction.
If you write fictional stories, you can also write true stories. Both employ the same storytelling techniques such as a compelling lead, active verbs, scenes and other literary devices. The only difference is that you must weave your story with the thread of truth.
I have written about Thomas Jefferson, forensic anthropology, bacteria and viruses, manatees, post-traumatic stress and more, and yet I am not an expert on any of those subjects. That’s not my job. As a nonfiction writer, my job is to seek out the experts and find the information I need to write the story I want to tell. Instead of worrying about your lack of expertise, give yourself permission to be the student. Imagine you are a young reader. What would you want to know? Embolden yourself to ask the dumb and not-so-dumb questions, and become the author who delivers the answers.
If the R word scares you, reframe it in your head. You are simply learning about a topic that interests you. It is a chance to exercise your curiosity and explore. Research is reading when you should be folding laundry; surfing the internet in your pajamas; meeting people (not in your pajamas); and an excuse to travel (and write off the expenses). What’s so scary about that?
Lastly, you will never have to worry about “getting it wrong” if you use reliable sources and keep orderly notes so you can easily check your facts. I like to photocopy everything, but there are many ways to stay organized. Find a system that works for you. For extra insurance, get your manuscript fact-checked by one or more of the experts you consulted. They will appreciate the opportunity to see that you represented them and their field of study correctly, and you get the satisfaction of telling a prospective editor that so-and-so, a professional what-not, approved your well-researched and well-written true story.
See? You CAN handle the truth.
One Sweet Giveaway!
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Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.