I have been away from my blog for a few weeks, reason being that I was at a conference the first week, then I went on vacation and now I’m trying to reignite my brain to pick up where it left off. I must confess that during my vacation I broke one of my rules, which is to write every day. But even the best of us slip up sometimes, don’t we?. So on to the conference.

Before I signed up, I’d never heard of the Black Writers Retreat & Conference. But since it was in my backyard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I thought I should take advantage of the proximity. It turned out to be a good investment in time and money. The seaside location proved to be ideal, the workshops practical and helpful and the presenters knowledgeable and inspiring.

The first workshop I attended was titled “Writing Faction.” Now this got me, as I thought it was a typo, but, of course, the organizers were too professional to make that kind of error. The subject had to do with research methodology and presenting the facts in your memoir, biography or even in fiction. The presenter, Dr. Heiss, who hails from Sydney, Australia showed us how to gather and include facts in our stories.

Dr. Heiss cautioned that in preparing to write we should first consider:

1. What do I want to do with my novel and
2. Why do people need to read my story

She then went into the importance of research methodology. Now this is a topic that, unless you are a history buff or someone like that, most writers may not find very exciting. But as Dr. Heiss spoke about the research she conducted for her novels, I saw how research can add depth, richness and authenticity to any story. Most of what she said the average writer already knows, but it is always tempting to skip a few things in our enthusiasm – or lack of – in carrying out our research.

Here are some reasons for doing proper research:

1. Authenticity – especially important in historical fiction or a memoir
2. Ethics
3. Truth
4. Accountability
5. The Hippocratic Oath – first, do no harm
6. Respect for those you are writing about
7. Avoiding litigation
8. Readers deserve the best product

Once you have identified your sources you need to:

1. Communicate and consult with them and obtain consent – in writing, of course.
2. Be accurate in your note-taking.
3. Obtain approval/confirmation of facts from your sources. You do this by sending them a copy of the relevant pages once you have completed your first draft. This would ensure that everything is accurate.
4. Be flexible. People may change some of the information, or they may remember something important that was left out.

Now that you have received confirmation from your sources and your book is complete, you need to acknowledge contributors, unless they asked to remain anonymous. You also need to address any copyright issues that may arise. You can always go to the library or online to gather material for your books, but think how much more impactful it would be if you can attribute your facts to a person or persons now living.

How do you conduct research for your books? What issues/challenges did you face? How has your research methodology helped to make you a better writer? Please leave a comment below.