Every book can benefit from research-especially non-fiction books. Whether you are a pastor with decades of experience, a business coach who has helped small businesses earn millions, or a health consultant who has helped dozens of people improve the quality of their lives, research will help your readers understand just how common, relevant or significant your message is while making it easier for them to trust you as a valuable resource. The good news is that the research process does not need to be tedious or intimidating.
It can be easy to get so caught up in researching your book that you never begin to actually write it, so to avoid falling into this trap consider beginning your research process by defining a few key questions that you want to answer for your readers via research.
Some of these questions for non-fiction self-help and subject-matter focused books may include:
- Why is my book topic important enough for people to sit down and read about it?
- What are the common incorrect assumptions people make about my book topic?
- What are some of the current solutions or answers available for people who are interested in my topic?
- Who are the major opinion leaders on my topic and what is their stance?
- Why does the issue still exist today?
A few research questions for memoir writers to consider may include:
- Is there any part of my story that relates to current events? If so, how are they similar and different?
- Is there any part of my story that relates to significant historical events? If so, how are they similar and different?
- Are there any established communities, organizations or media platforms that are dedicated to experiences like mine? If so, do they have information I can incorporate into my message or is there a way I can use my message to help them reach their goals?
- Are there any historical events or conditions that may have impacted my own story? (For example, if you grew up during the Great Depression it may have affected your family life.)
All of these research questions are big with a wide focus to make it easier for you to start digging. Once you start digging, you can limit the information you consider incorporating into your book to the information that helps highlight the power of your message and magnifies its impact. Even if some of the research highlights a mistake or something you are not proud of, being bold enough to share it can make all the difference in how readers receive your book.
There is no shortage of methods you can use to research your book. You can conduct research by conducting interviews, surveys, polls, questionnaires, reading books, reading research articles, reading credible information websites, blogs and articles. If you’re not sure where to start, the librarians at your local library would likely be thrilled to help you get started.
Cornell University Library did a great job of creating a webpage with a quick overview of the research process and tips on how to determine whether your source is credible. The easy-to-understand information on the page may help you feel more confident in how to approach research and even includes tips on how to cite your sources. As a quick note, if you are self-publishing or you don’t know how your publisher wants you to cite your sources then it would be wise to follow the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) guide because it is the most commonly used style guide in the book publishing industry.
Although Mary Carroll Moore’s blog post about doing research is geared more on strategies for fiction authors, I love her tip about setting a 30 minute timer to break down your research adventures to a bite-sized time frame so that you don’t get so caught up in research that you never write.
Don’t let the word “research” intimidate you. When you allow yourself to use part of your scheduled book appointments to do a little digging on your book topic-even if you are already an expert-you will be surprised by what you find.