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Writing Nonfiction Books: 21 Nonfiction Writing Research Techniques

If you’re writing a nonfiction book, gathering information is one of the most important things you’ll need to do. This process can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. This blog post will discuss research techniques to help you collect the information you need for your book. We’ll also talk about how to stay organized and avoid getting overwhelmed during the research process. Let’s get started!

Determine Your Nonfiction Genre

As a nonfiction writer, it’s essential to understand the genre in which you intend to write and publish because this will often significantly influence the approach to your research that you will adopt.

Some types of nonfiction are:

  • Creative nonfiction
  • Academic writing
  • Literary nonfiction
  • Personal essay
  • Narrative nonfiction
  • Literary journalism
  • Memoir

Start by Defining Your Topic

When starting a nonfiction book, it’s essential first to define your topic and why it matters. This will help you focus your research and ensure you’re gathering relevant information for your book. Additionally, defining your topic will help you create a roadmap for your book and give you a better idea of the overall structure.

When defining your topic, it’s essential to be as specific as possible. This will help you stay focused and avoid getting sidetracked while researching. It’s also essential to ensure your topic is interesting and relevant to your audience. If you can’t explain why your topic matters, your readers won’t be interested either.

It can be helpful to develop a thesis statement or question you want to answer through your research.

Once you’ve defined your topic, it’s time to start doing research. This can be daunting, but many techniques can make it easier – you’ll find a list below. I suggest you start with a list of several primary research questions you wish to answer.

Keep in mind when doing research that as you gather the information, you understand the topic better and get ideas for further research.

Do Some Preliminary Research

When writing a nonfiction book, it’s essential to do preliminary research to gather information and get an idea of what you want to say. This research can help you get a better understanding of your topic and help you plan out your book.

The first step in preliminary research is to develop a research question. Your research question should be specific and focused and guide your research process. Once you have a research question, you can begin to gather information.

Once you’ve gathered all this information, it’s crucial to analyze it and synthesize it into a cohesive whole. This will help you develop a strong argument for your book. Preliminary research is an essential part of writing any nonfiction book. It will help you gather the information you need to write a well-informed book that will inform and engage your readers.

There are many different research techniques that you can use, and each one has its advantages. You’ll find a comprehensive list below.

There are several approaches you can use to conduct preliminary research:

  1. Start by reading books and articles on your topic. This will give you a broad overview of your subject.
  2. Identify key sources of information on your topic. These sources might include academic journals, government reports, or trade publications.
  3. Explore different ways to collect information. This could include conducting interviews, surveys, or focus groups.
  4. Create a timeline for your research project. This will help you stay on track and ensure you don’t miss any critical deadlines.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when researching is that it’s essential to be selective. You don’t want to overload yourself with information, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. Instead, try to focus on the key points you want to cover and gather information.

Use Primary Sources

When researching a nonfiction book, it’s important to use primary sources whenever possible. Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or experience, often offering a much more accurate picture of what happened than second-hand accounts or memoirs.

Primary sources can be found in various formats, including interviews, letters, diaries, transcripts, and recordings. They can help give you an idea of the context surrounding the event or experience you’re writing about and provide you with first-hand accounts of what happened.

Using primary sources can be especially helpful when you’re trying to verify historical events. You can build a more accurate picture of what happened by verifying events with multiple primary sources. This is important because it ensures your book is accurate and provides your readers with reliable information.

Another reason to use primary sources is that they can provide new information. When reading a history book, likely, the author has already compiled and analyzed all of the available information on a subject. However, looking at documents from the period you are researching, you may find information that has not been previously published. This can give you a complete picture of what happened during that time.

Another benefit of using primary sources is that they help you connect with your audience. When readers can connect with the people featured in your book, they are more likely to engage with your work. Primary sources provide a personal connection to the people and events you’re writing about, which can make your book more relatable and exciting to read.

Approaches to Organize Your Information

One of the most critical steps in writing a nonfiction book is organizing your information. This involves creating a system for gathering and sorting your research material. There are several ways to do this, and the research method you choose will depend on the type of book you’re writing and the amount of information you have.

  • One common way to organize information is by topic. You can create a file or folder for each topic and then subdivide those topics into smaller categories. This approach can be helpful if you want to ensure that all of your information is organized logically. It also makes it easy to find specific information when you need it.
  • Another way to organize information is by source. If you’re writing a book that includes research from multiple sources, it can be helpful to organize your material by source. This will make tracking down the original sources easier if you need to verify something.
  • Time-based organization is another way to organize information. When you organize your information by time, you group all the information related to a specific time period. This can be helpful because it makes it easy for readers to understand how events progressed over time. It can also help you to see any changes or trends that might have occurred over time.
  • Location-based organization is another way to organize information. When you organize your information by location, you group all the information related to a specific place. This can be helpful because it makes it easy for readers to understand how events unfolded in a specific location. It can also help you to see any patterns or connections that might exist between different locations.
  • You can also organize information by audience. You can group all the information according to who will be reading it. This type of organization can be helpful if you want to target a specific group of people with your book.

Whatever method you choose, it’s essential to be consistent with it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of disorganized material that will be difficult to work with.

Tools to Organize Your Information

Many tools can help you organize the information you collect for your book. The most important thing is to find a system that works for you and to stick with it. Some of the most common tools include:

Note Taking Software

This software can help you keep track of your research notes and the sources you used to gather that information. I’m a fan of Roam Research as a way to create, collate, link, and exploit large amounts of notes. This software can help you keep track of your research notes and the sources you used to gather that information. Depending on how far down the idea development process I find myself, I sometimes go direct to my mind mapping app, TheBrain (see below). I’m keeping a close eye on the upcoming app Scrintal.

Bibliographic Management Software

This software can help you keep track of the books, articles, and other sources you used in your research. It can also help you create citations for your work. I use the free app Calibre to store and organize the metadata for all my books and research papers. I use Hook Pro to create the link if I need to link across from an entry in the Calibre database. If citing a work in a paper or text, I use Bookends to generate a formatted citation (it can also search the Google Books, Google Scholar, Pubmed, etc. databases).

Mind Mapping Tools

Mind mapping tools can help you visually organize your research notes and ideas. In my personal experience, this technique can be helpful when trying to see connections between ideas. My favorite desktop app for developing ideas, and documenting the essential stuff upon which I stumble, is TheBrain. When allowing my mind to roam in a creative environment, I use Noda VR, which allows me to build mind maps in virtual 3D space (and then export them via CSV to bring into TheBrain).

Project Management Tools

Project management tools can help you keep track of all the different aspects of your book project, from researching to writing to publishing. In the past, I used professional-grade project management apps such as Merlin for Mac. These days, I try to keep things very simple and use Google Calendar, Things (for To Dos), and TheBrain to create a conceptual overview of a project.

File Management Tools

File management tools can help you organize all the files related to your book project, including notes, images, and audio files. When I need to dump a bunch of stuff into one place and use AI to help me make sense of it, I turn to DEVONthink. Its ability to spot serendipitous connections is excellent.

Online Bookmarking Services

Online bookmarking services can help you store links to websites and articles related to your book project. This can make it easy to access these resources when you need them. I keep the list of links in a Thought in TheBrain – because this is the principal place I develop projects. The individual URL’s can be attached to the individual Thought, meaning that one can directly view and navigate the web page or site in the mind map’s Notes and Inspector window. If I need a specific reference, I create it with Hook Pro and add it wherever needed. For a rapid search, analysis, and cross-correlations, I use DEVONAgent and DEVONthink in tandem: DEVONAgent grabs all the Google searches, which then syncs over to DEVONthink to start running Boolean or Advanced Boolean searches.

When using any of these tools, create a system that works for you and is easy to follow. Label folders and files, create categories for your notes, and use consistent formatting for citations and references. If possible, try to use a tool that is compatible with other software programs so that you can easily move information back and forth between them.

21 Research Methods to Consider When Writing Your Nonfiction Book

  1. Interview experts in your field
  2. Look for online resources – I use Infranodus to spot conceptual connections and identify valuable resources
  3. Check the library catalog
  4. Use internet forums and discussion group
  5. Conduct a literature review, using literary journals as an index – I find that Scholarcy is hugely helpful to fillet the essence of books and papers prior to further reading
  6. Survey your target audience
  7. Use social media platforms to collect data
  8. Collect data from surveys and questionnaires – including focus groups or interviews with key stakeholders
  9. Collect data from case studies and anecdotal evidence
  10. Analyze relevant statistics and data sets
  11. Review industry reports and white papers
  12. Read trade magazines and journals
  13. Scan conference proceedings and academic papers
  14. Watch webinars and listen to podcasts
  15. Consult expert databases such as Google Scholar or LexisNexis Academic
  16. Check the reference sections of books and articles for more sources of information
  17. Use subject directories such as Yahoo! Directory or DMOZ Open Directory Project
  18. Surf the internet using specific websites created for researchers, such as EBSCOhost’s Research Databases or the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Library website
  19. Attend professional conferences related to your topic
  20. Search for old newspapers and magazines online
  21. Use oral history collections to collect information from interviewees