How to do Research Without Really Trying

Posted on 30/09/2011 by


I don’t do any research for my writing.

I used to say this quite regularly. It’s not true. It’s just a delusion that I was quite attached to. This is because I thought all research was looking things up in books, writing down details and copying them faithfully into your story at the relevant parts. But research isn’t only that. It’s also reading apparently unrelated things and talking to people and watching people and asking them peculiar questions. It’s wandering around museums and looking at art and studying psychology. It’s reading across genres and listening to music and everything that feeds your brain with information. And I do those things all the time.

These days, I even do straight up research sometimes. I’ll become aware of a hole in my knowledge and deliberately seek to rectify it. That looks like this:

  • Write about someone getting hit on the head.
  • Wonder if they’re concussed.
  • Consider how they would act if they were.
  • Remember what getting concussed feels like.
  • Realise that’s not a terribly intelligent place to look for knowledge.
  • Wander over to wikipedia. Troll the internet for academic sources. Read recommended texts. Question anyone who I think might have a perspective on it.
  • Learn about what concussion is, how it happens. About the different levels of concussion and the symptoms and treatments associated with and recommended for them. About what it feels like, looks like, and what the long term consequences are.
  • Decide character was hit X hard and is therefore Y concussed.
  • Make mental note of continuing consequences of decision for later chapters.
  • Remember what getting concussed feel like.
  • Write perspective of concussed character.*
  • Wonder if research was worth it and if all that reading counts as ‘working’ or as ‘procrastinating’.

I’ve gradually come to realise, however, that that I do the greater part of my research without even being aware that I’m doing it. It looks more like this:

  • Watch half an episode of The Tudors.
  • Poke the internet into giving me a rundown of the political structure of Renaissance Italy with a detour through the family tree of Germany’s royal family.

    Magnifying glass over a dictionary highlighting the word 'Research', also allowed you to read under its definition 'serious' and 'discover new facts'

    Research. Serious business.

  • Flip through the Machiavelli book to confirm that the dates mentioned in the episode were all wrong.
  • Consider how war engine drawn in Da Vinci art book could have been used by Machiavelli if his prince had listened to him.
  • Discuss Machiavelli’s reputation and potential validity of his arguments with housemate.
  • Decide he’s better than Caligula but that Dante is better to quote from.
  • Get distracted reading chapter from Dante’s La Vita Nuova. Think about the changes in meaning that have been introduced in the translation. Compare to alternate translation.
  • Think that The Tudors is an unusual adaptation of the story. Make a note to compare it to other film versions of this part of history.
  • Finish episode.
  • Only remember watching one episode and wonder how it took three hours.
  • Wake up in the night and write two thousand words of Path framed around history of the civil war.
  • Tell mother I did not spend the weekend working again.