Getting Started with Nonfiction Research and Organization - article

As a nonfiction writer, you want to create definitive work. To cultivate this kind of work you must learn to identify weak spots. The first and most important part of writing nonfiction is the research. Reliable source material is of upmost importance. Always choose original sources first; expert interviews are much more reliable than secondary sources such as journals, databases, and books.

Finding reliable materials

Online source material is de rigueur in today’s world. But be aware that websites with .org or .edu domains are much more reliable that websites ending in .com. That said, web sources need to be backed up with extensive supporting material. Many online source databases, such as Proquest and EBSCO Host, are available for use through local libraries. Use online scholarly sources whenever possible.

All source material needs to be properly annotated. MLA is a popular citation method. Try to back up every fact with three sources. This ensures reliability. If the three sources disagree, stick with the most reliable, but note your research discrepancies. Try to copy or scan source materials for future fact checking. Note that it’s not necessary to include references as part of the main manuscript, but they should be part of a submission package.

Organizing your research

Once solid research is complete, this information needs to be shaped into a cohesive whole. Use outlines to organize materials. In most cases, nonfiction books are sold through the submission of an outline and three sample chapters. Hence an outline is of great importance when creating a nonfiction book. It is prudent for a first-time author to go and write their nonfiction book first, even though they will only submit an outline.

Finally, nonfiction must flow logically from idea to idea. A nonfiction book relies on clarity of thought. The structure must include an introduction, the body, and then a conclusion. Gumming up the language with adjective- and adverb-ridden prose is not acceptable. The writing must be invisible, making the content king. A nonfiction author must create an original voice. A monotonous voice is to be avoided. Loosen up. Don’t choose difficult words to impress readers. All you will do is obfuscate the material. Write your best book with your own words. Be yourself. You learned this in kindergarten, but it’s still good advice.

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    Good advice

  • Thank you, Molly. These are basic but essential tips.
  • I have been doing it for 40 years. I have only had access to the Internet for not quite 10 of those years. The best single tool that I have found: Wikipedia. It is more useful than the next half dozen sources combined. One cautionary note: Many articles, especially on esoteric subjects, reflect the bias of the (anonymous) authors. There is a response mechanism, which is sometimes useful, but which sometimes generates more heat than light.