Thursday, July 21, 2011

Organizing Your Research by DL Larson

When I first started researching the early 1800's for my American historical, I took plenty of notes. I was very careful to site the title, copyright dates, volume, author, and what library I was researching from. I even kept track of the page numbers I found important information. I wanted to make sure when I posted my Bibliography at the end of my novel, I would have all the accurate documentation. Well, I succeeded in accomplishing that, but it didn't take long for me to realize I needed another system to keep track of the information I acquired. You may need an organizing system as well.

After shuffling through notebooks, copied pages from books, and numerous notations in my own handwriting, I knew it would be quicker in the long run to index what I had already found. My system started out much like an inverted pyramid. I used topic titles such as: Indian Tribes, Routes, Military, Rivers, Towns: Indian/White, Maps, Laws Passed, etc. This was done well before excel was a household word.

Within any topic title I kept several folders, for instance the Indian Tribes I researched were many and varied from culture to culture. My story included real people in our history so details became very important. The Pawnee Indian Tribe was very different from the Shawnee, yet they knew of each other and cross referencing became even more important. Color coding worked well in keeping my notes accurate and easy to verify if I had a question that needed answering. I didn't want to state something as simple as the Pawnee were friends with the Potawatomi if they were in fact sworn enemies or had no contact with them during that era.

Timelines, as we've mentioned this week, are very important. When doing a historical about a real person (and well known) it's never good to have him in one part of the country in a your story when history has him in another place. I documented where my character was over a three year period and although I sometimes forgot and the writing took over, it was easy to search through my notes and sigh with relief when he was where I needed him to be.

Research may be tedious, yet once organized it will save hours of time for any writer. My system may not work well for you, but what ever system you develop, it will prove its worth as you write your story.

I always thought I would write more about Indians of the midwest since I acquired so much information, but I never have. Yet, I'm not willing to throw my notes away. Maybe someday I will revisit those archives.

What works well for you in note keeping or researching a special topic for your book? Tell us your secrets on keeping organized.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

3 comments:

Juli Monroe said...

I keep all my research in Evernote. Most of my research is online, so it's easy for me to clip articles, tag and save for later. I also keep my timelines, master character list and plot snippets in Evernote. I like that I can access my notes on my computer, Nook Color or iPhone. So wherever/whenever I have an idea, or a thought, I can capture, upload and have it available.

Book research is a little trickier. For that, I take notes and include page references for later.

Deb Larson said...

Evernote is great for storing info. Book research is a whole other game and if the material can be scanned into a computer, lots of options are available. BUT many fragile books are not allowed to be copied or scanned - that brings us right back to the good old pen and paper method. Organizing that is a bit trickier as you mentioned.
Thanks for sharing ~
DL Larson

Weissdorn said...

I just wanted to make a comment that I like helping authors research the Holy Roman Empire (of German Nations) - from the Late Middle Ages through the Late Renaissance, because I can help them find information they're for that may only be available in the German language.