Saturday, April 14, 2007

First-Hand Research

This past week in my e-newsletter, Doing It Write!, I wrote about research. In addition to searching for information though the Internet and reading books, it’s good, when possible, to do first-hand research. Go visit places, talk to people, and accumulate all the sensory input you can. And take pictures.

I heard from some of the subscribers to Doing It Write! about how they do research. They have some good suggestions and examples which will run in the next two or three issues of the newsletter. The consensus seems to be that first-hand research is great, but you’ll have better experiences and get more useful information if you do your Internet research before you go.

And this is true. If you do the preliminary work, it’ll make your job easier and you’ll spend your time looking for the things you can’t find on the Internet or in books. You’ll also free yourself up to enjoy the first-hand experiences that might make your book better.

If I had only done book or Internet research on D.C. before I went, I might have been able to describe the color and shape of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. But I wouldn’t have known what they looked like after they’d been hit by a freeze. I wouldn’t have thought to describe the cold wind scraping across my face and tangling my hair in twenty directions, or the joy at finding the leather gloves tucked into a pocket of my coat. Or the rumbling of the trains running outside my hotel window. Or the brightness of the sun as you ride up the escalator from the Metro tunnel. Or the warm familiar smell of hot dogs near a vendor’s cart.

Do both kinds of research if possible – the research you can do sitting at your desk and the kind you do on your feet in the streets.

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