EDITING 101: 33 – Research – How Much is Enough or How Much is Too Much?

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

Research – How Much is Enough or How Much is Too Much?

Once your first draft is completed, you might decide there are areas that you need to research. How long a body will keep in a refrigerator, for instance. Or how apt someone is to be struck by lightning while jogging through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in July. Or whether or not the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City is uptown or downtown from where your main character is. There are many details that writers have to research to make sure they are correct.

Just like anything, some authors love to research and others hate it. Those who love it can get lost in researching, using precious writing time to keep researching nit-picky details that simply aren’t necessary to the story. Those who hate researching may cavalierly assume that their details are correct and not bother taking the time to conduct important research. Whether you love it or hate researching, though, it’s a necessary task.

When writing your story, you’re the expert. You know the characters and the plotline better than anyone else does. You should also know the other details, as well. If you write that MOMA is downtown from Wall Street, you’d better be sure you’re correct! Otherwise, a streetwise New York City resident is going to say, “No way, Jose!” And bingo, you’ve lost your credibility as the expert. Something as simple as misspelling Walmart (I see this particular issue all the time in manuscripts I edit) could make your readers lose faith in your story. At the very least, it may give them pause while they think about whether or not you’re correct. (Other readers may not notice at all.) Since you’ve now taken them out of the story, you have to work at drawing them back in again. It’s an unnecessary interruption that you could have avoided.

So the answer to the question “How much is enough?” is as much is needed to ensure all your facts are correct. A freelance book editor can help in this regard, as many will query facts they believe are wrong. I even have a proofreading symbol, “CYF,” which translates into “Check Your Facts.”

The answer to the question “How much is too much?” is when you’re spending valuable writing time researching things that aren’t going to appear in your book at all. Some authors, especially historical authors, spend a lot of time researching a period or event before they even start writing. While this may prove helpful, it’s also easy to become caught up in researching and end up with tons of material that isn’t even going to be used. When you understand the basic facts, it may be more useful to start writing and save the research for the material you really need.

Next week we’ll discuss ‘When to use “which” or “that”?’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE

NOTE:

This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.

Susan

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40 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 33 – Research – How Much is Enough or How Much is Too Much?

  1. I go nuts when authors get details, and especially directions, wrong for London. Doesn’t matter what century, either – it’s an old city with long-standing historical records. My response ranges from docking 1-3 stars or just throwing it away in disgust!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I will admit I’m guilty of too much research when I could be writing.😿😿

    On Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 8:01 PM, Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog wrote:

    > The Story Reading Ape posted: “Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now > Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for > some of you and brand new for others. Courtesy of Adirondack Editing > Research – How Much is Enough or How Much is Too Much? Once your fir” >

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Chris and Susan, my Master’s degree is in Clinical Research and so….I guess you can tell where I fit in, I do waste much time at it, but loving it all the while. I have binders of research for my two books and the third one I am now writing. Maybe I should publish my research instead – just kidding! Great post. Thank you! K D 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, K.D.! When you have that much research tucked away, it can be hard to find the original to verify a fact later. Do you have any good thoughts for organizing it and keeping track of where the facts came from?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Susan, I can be found in the dictionary under organization, I am a fanatic on organizing. Ask my family. I chronicle everything in sight; every book, tabbed to an inch of its life, and everything else too. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • Susan, Oh, yes, I do, just like a librarian by subject matter, book and page number, and alphabetized! (I have the books, so looking facts up easy. As a clinical researcher, things must be categorized properly.) 🙂 K D

          Liked by 2 people

          • Good for you! Yes, if I were in your shoes, I would have to design some sort of coding system, like Dewey Decimal, so I could find the material again to check it. Sometimes when I ask writers to double check a single comma or semicolon to be sure it’s been copied correctly, they have a terrible time finding the source material again! 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

          • Yes, at one time that did happen to me, a time or two, in college, but when doing fiction, my research is for background description of a particular time and place in history regarding foods, clothes, farming, cities,colloquialisms, wars, floods and so forth. Thank you so much for commenting. Great post, I might add, again! Karen 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged with the following: research is imperative, whatever the genre. Being aware of utilising the research into the story rather than an ‘info dump’ because you’ve spent time researching and you don’t want to waste it (time or info). How much researched information will enhance your story?
    I’m researching places, timeframes, companies etc for my mother’s story – there will be the novel where research will be either for scene set or dialogue; and then there will be a booklet with the additional information based on research which will be available for family only. The latter is to give a fuller personal picture of relevance only to family.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on Site Title and commented:
    Research is imperative, whatever the genre. Being aware of utilising the research into the story rather than an ‘info dump’ because you’ve spent time researching and you don’t want to waste it (time or info). How much researched information will enhance your story?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Another thing to remember: you can lose readers with “too much” research too. I just read a very popular TOME by a writer who certainly did her research — all 700+ pages of it! (and no, this was not historical fiction).

    Had it not been for a book club discussion, I would have returned that book to the library and run away screaming much sooner. Many folks liked the book (and lord knows I adore words and big books), but there comes a time when enough is just too much! Just because you looked it up doesn’t mean it belongs in the book – no matter how well known you want to be for vivid descriptions!
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jean M. Auel was a classic example of this. Her six- or seven-book series took over 20 years to write. She packed them with so much unnecessary research that they became tomes. By the time the last three or four came out, I only read them for the storyline—I wanted to find out what happened. But they were so bloated; they could’ve easily been cut in half. 😦

      Liked by 3 people

      • I tried to read the last Jean Auel book, but I just couldn’t. I borrowed it from the library and renewed it 9 times! I couldn’t get through it. I was bored with the description of the caves and fauna. I finally gave up about halfway through. I had read all the previous books and felt cheated from the ending payoff. It felt as though she was bored as well and just wanted to complete her contractual obligations to finish the series. As a reader, I was disappointed.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Exactly, Rebecca. I did finish it, although I had to force myself. And after all that hard work and waiting for 20 years, it was a horrible, unsatisfying ending to the series. You didn’t miss much. I’m sure you can find discussions about it online (with a synopsis) if you really want to know. Readers were horrified. 😦

          Thirty years later, I still reread Clan of the Cave Bear and maybe the next two. The first one was excellent!! But it’s not worth it to go further.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. This is another post you have written for me! I am writing a historical mystery and I get lost in the research and I haven’t even begun to write yet. I am still outlining and trying to populate my town with characters and when I want to look up some character ideas or clothing or whatever from that time period, I lose myself. This is a great reminder to glue butt to the chair! I laughed out loud at the “cover your facts CYF” I thought you were about to write CYA, but then, that is pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

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