Once I’ve settled on a topic for a nonfiction piece, it’s time to learn as much about the subject as I can. I once heard nonfiction author Melissa Stewart say that she reads around a topic until she feels like she’s reading the same thing over and over again. Only then does she begin to write. I take a similar approach.
I start with online databases at my local public library. If you’ve never used those online databases, you might be surprised what you find. Gales’ General One File is one of my favorites, along with ProQuest. These give you access to all kinds of searchable journal, newspaper and magazine articles. Sometimes I use JSTOR for scholarly articles. The site now allows you to add three free articles to your bookshelf at a time. Normally you have to pay a hefty fee for each article.
I use Evernote’s Web clipper to keep a copy of every article, photo or other resource I find online. Each piece I write has its own notebook, where I store all the articles, Web sites, audio files, photos, and other resources I need. The notebooks and articles are stored both “in the cloud” and are synced to Evernote on my computer.
I still use the free version of Evernote, but if I ever exceeded the allowable storage, I would gladly pay for the premium service. It beats trying to save everything as a PDF on my hard drive. Plus Evernote is completely searchable, either by tags or within each note, which makes finding information a snap.
Along with Evernote, I rely on EasyBib to handle my bibliographies. EasyBib is free if you cite in MLA 6 or 7. If you cite in APA or another format, there is a fee. EasyBib can convert your bibliography from one format to another. And, you can have it search for journal titles and automatically cite them. Or you can paste in a Web site, and it will attempt to do the citation for you. I normally have to edit these, but it’s nice to have some of the information auto-filled. Here, again, the benefit is that my bibliography is “in the cloud.” You can also upload a copy of your final manuscript if you want everything stored in one place.
Do you have any tips for nonfiction research?