Where to research info for your nonfiction book

Among the biggest mistakes novice writers of nonfiction books make is not adequately researching their material. The result is that they often misstate facts, don’t provide the evidence to back their claims that might not be readily accepted, and tend to lack a depth of understanding about the topic.

Indeed, as outlining your manuscript, research should be your primary focus. Learning how others think about the topic and reviewing the literature on it can help you best shape your own book.

There are plenty of places to gather information about a topic. Among them:
• Published books and articles (both academic and popular) – These materials can be found online and at libraries run by your local municipality or university. As published materials, such text typically is written by other experts or researchers and so can provide invaluable quotations and statistics about a topic.
 Interviews – All too often authors of self-published nonfiction books overlook the value of an interview. Yet, the interviews is the primary way journalists and many authors gather information for their books. Unlike a book or an article, you can carry on a conversation with the interviewee, allowing you to explore ideas, especially those that are hazy to you.
• Government agencies – Agencies must gather statistics to direct their activities and to make the case for their funding. Some agencies do nothing but collect data for other agencies. Most of this data is available online, such as at http://www.data.gov.
 Internet – The world wide web is an excellent place to locate and read academic articles, to find experts for interviews, and to browse government data. Be wary of misstatements and misinformation from bloggers and websites who hold a specific political or economic interest in advocating a position, however. In addition, like printed encyclopedias of old, sources such as Wikipedia and websites often are great places to get an overview of a topic but are inadequate as sources of quotable information.

Finally, if you’re an expert on the topic – say a financial adviser writing about planning for retirement – you probably know enough to get away with not researching the topic. Still, even an expert’s arguments and recommendations are strengthened when evidence from others provides evidence and support, so research is well worth the effort.