The Importance of Research
I’m in the early stages of planning a new project, embarking on research for the characters I am developing and the situations I want to put them in; something I didn’t do a lot of in my early projects. Back then I thought I knew what I was doing and didn’t need research (yeah, we’ve all been there) but that led to me writing characters who I didn’t know well enough to write with any level of complexity or familiarity.
So, I just thought I’d throw out a few few thoughts about research. Or, at least, how I feel it is important for everything we write.
The type of research you do will vary from project to project. It can be desk-based, secondary research exploring other people’s works and texts, or it could be primary research, out in the field interviewing people or partaking in observation. Regardless of the type, the importance is the same. Without it, your story may struggle to achieve believability or resonate with an audience taken “out of the moment” by confusing or poorly chosen details.
My current project includes a character with Alzheimer’s, a terrible disease, the main issues of which I am sure we are all familiar with. However, there is much more to Alzheimer’s than the common symptoms that we all know about. I need to understand those symptoms to understand how my character is feeling and how they may react in any situation I throw in their direction – but even that is not enough. Identity is formed of two main parts; how we see ourselves and how others see us. Alzheimer’s is experienced not just by those suffering from the disease, but also their families and the people caring for them. The views of this group is also vital for getting a all-round picture of the disease, how it affects the sufferer and the people around them. By exploring and reading accounts of Alzheimer’s from the patients, their families, carers, nurses and doctors, I can develop an in-depth understanding of the disease, how it is detected, treated and experienced by everyone it touches. I can write believable and empathetic characters that, hopefully, the audience will get behind and root for, rather than stereotyped/cliche characters that are not believable and don’t hold the attention of the viewers. Without proper research I will be guessing and making assumptions based on half-known truths, rather than concrete realities.
The beauty of all this is, I can do all that from the safety and comfort of an arm-chair, although there is nothing to stop me from interviewing local doctors/patients either (apart from the NHS Regulatory processes) if I felt there was more information that could be gleaned.
And that is an important point to consider. What is enough information? How do I know if I need more? The simple answer to that is “Data Saturation” a term that is often found in methodology sections of qualitative research. It simply means that you have reached a level of research where you are not gaining any new information; you are coming across the same themes and concepts repeatedly. That is the time to stop and move on to something else. Just keep at it until you have everything you need. Easy, isn’t it?
That is all you need to do. Whether it is research about character names, locations, traits, occupations, historical events, period dress, regional dialects or foreign foods, keep going until you have what you need and don’t think you can get any new information that will help you.
That way, everything in your story will be infused with realism and authenticity as well as being presented professionally.
Do just what you need to, but don’t ignore the power and importance of careful research.
Do you undertake research for your projects?
Have you ever written anything without doing any research?
Feel free to comment below!