Get Organized: How Do I Track Research Materials? - article

The sheer volume of information an active author will collect when developing story after story can easily become overwhelming. Here are some ways to better organize your research materials.

One absolute necessity is to keep both a hard copy and a digital copy of your research. This is not meant to give you another detail to stress over, but rather, relieve stress in the event your hard drive crashes or you misplace your research binder. Besides, nowadays, with the invention of the flash drive or digital storage mediums, it’s cheap and easy to store a backup of every one of your precious files, in a replicable solid state.

When actually organizing your files, do so in two main categories, by story and by topic. Thus, one section should be dedicated to nothing but an individual story and all its notes, research, and various outlines. A second broad section will be more of an encyclopedia that includes everything else you research, organized by topic, theme, location, and time frame. This second section will serve as the area from which you pull ideas and background, when developing new stories.

Start by organizing what should be in your story section. At a minimum, you'll want to keep such materials as character profiles, setting descriptions, and plot lines. Your main character profiles should have more than a description and basic story. Include enough, so that when it comes to motives, you'll have background to pull from. Sketches of minor characters don't need as much detail, but should contain enough to make them understandable. Settings can be handled simply. Write a very descriptive paragraph, detailing the setting in a way that brings it to life in your imagination. While plot lines may initially be simple, they are sure to grow as the story progresses.

When organizing by topic, you have more freedom about what to include. You can set up sections for genre-specific ideas, as well as for different times in history and for cultures you'd like to include in your writing someday. Even works in progress can have their own section.

When you're ready to write, you can simply dig out information you have already deeply researched. You can review it, brainstorm again, and decide if any additional research is needed.

This kind of organization will lay the basis for better work and a better writing experience. All it took was a little preparation.

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  • Thank you! Will do!

  • This has been one of my biggest concerns...what to keep and how to file. Thank you so much!

  • A very useful article. It has certainly helped to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed as I approach the research of my book. Organising the material is so key in setting yourself up for success and you have helped me do that, thank you!
  • Very informative and helpful article. I was in two minds whether I should keep a hard copy as well - perhaps it is unnecessary. This article has solved that problem for me. I am also going to divide my research in the two groups as suggested - topics and story.
  • I very good review. A problem with my forthcoming book is that I now live 1,600 air miles from the only two research libraries that are of much use in researching the topic. And I did the basic research in the late 1980s and the 1990s, before the Internet revolution. I hope that whoever takes up where I must leave off has as good a grasp of the fundamentals as you do.