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9 Research Tips Every Nonfiction Author Needs to Know Thorough research is crucial to writing authoritative nonfiction books. By investing substantial time in comprehensive research using credible sources, authors can back up their perspectives and narratives persuasively.

By Vikrant Shaurya Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Authors should take detailed notes when reading sources, evaluating credibility, and seeking both confirming and contradictory viewpoints to strengthen the analysis.
  • Skimping on research risks creating works that come across as misleading.
  • But diligent, structured methodology results in compelling, well-supported books.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Whether you're writing about history, science, business or any other nonfiction genre, thorough research is crucial to crafting compelling books. Without accurate, well-sourced information, your work risks coming across as uninformed or unreliable.

Follow these key research strategies to add depth and credibility to your nonfiction manuscripts:

1. Start early and budget time accordingly

Don't wait until you start writing to begin researching. Initiate the research process when you have a book concept and budget substantial time for this project stage. Rushed or last-minute research often results in overlooked details, facts being taken out of context and shallow analysis.

Depending on the topic's complexity, plan to spend weeks or even months immersed in research before drafting your outline and chapters. Tracking down obscure primary sources or navigating scientific data takes diligence.

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2. Define your research goals and scope

Rather than randomly searching for information, define what you want to know or prove. Are you seeking to uncover little-known facts, profile influential people, compile data, debunk myths or something else?

Outlining clear research goals will steer your efforts and help determine the types of sources to pursue. Your aims may shift over time as findings reveal new angles worth exploring.

Additionally, determine the scope of research needed. A historical biography, for instance, requires a more exhaustive investigation of primary records than a pop science book summarizing an established theory. Match research rigor with the project type and claims being made.

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3. Gather both primary and secondary sources

The most authoritative nonfiction books draw from a blend of primary and secondary sources. Primary sources provide direct first-hand evidence, while secondary sources offer expert interpretation and analysis of events or information.

Primary sources — such as original documents, data, diaries, interviews, artifacts and recordings — add authenticity. Meanwhile, secondary sources like other books, academic journals, articles and biographies lend credence through expert perspectives.

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4. Mine bibliographies to find relevant sources

Bibliographies and citations in books on your topic offer shortcuts to finding pertinent research sources. Rather than aimless searching, consult bibliographies to discover materials other experts in the field have already identified as relevant.

Look for frequently cited texts and patterns of sources to uncover respected authorities. Follow the paper trail to build your own bibliography faster.

5. Take thorough notes while reading

Simply reading a source is not enough. Take detailed notes while researching, clearly indicating all key facts, statistics, quotes and insights with proper citations. This provides traceable context should you want to return to the original material.

Avoid copying large portions of text verbatim. Paraphrase to distill and collate information from multiple sources in your own words. Robust notes form the raw material needed to synthesize, analyze and write chapters.

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6. Evaluate source quality and reliability

In nonfiction, every detail must be verified through credible sources. But how do you gauge source reliability? Consider:

  • The author's credentials and reputation for rigorous work. Are they a recognized expert?
  • The publisher. Academic university presses generally indicate scholarly rigor.
  • Potential biases or agendas. Cross-check politically charged claims.
  • How extensively the work is sourced. Heavily referenced materials inspire confidence.
  • Reviews by other experts. Does scholarly reception consider the source authoritative?

Dig beyond surface-level Googling to find reputable, multi-sourced data. Scrutinize sources rather than accepting them at face value.

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7. Seek both confirming and conflicting viewpoints

A balanced researcher consults sources representing diverse viewpoints that affirm and challenge the book's claims or perspectives. Objectively evaluating counterarguments and contradictory data strengthens fact-based conclusions.

Don't cherry-pick sources that just reinforce assumptions. Add intellectual heft by wrestling with dissenting views. Discussing opposing interpretations also adds compelling nuance to controversial topics.

8. Store and organize source materials

Develop a system to store, organize, and tag source materials so they can be easily referenced while writing. Solutions like Zotero, Evernote, Dropbox or OneNote help catalog copious notes, quotes, documents, web links and multimedia.

Tag materials by themes, chapters, or whatever taxonomies make sense for quick retrieval. Indexing sources aids memory and saves substantial time versus sorting through disorganized files and scraps of paper.

9. Seek obscure primary sources

While secondary sources summarize existing knowledge, tapping obscure primary sources can uncover rare gems and original insight, wowing seasoned readers.

Pursue primary resources like little-known diaries, newly digitized archival collections, proprietary data sets, forgotten letters between key figures, or hard-to-find first editions containing edited-out passages. Dig deeper for historical finds other writers overlooked.

Related: Need More Confidence? Here Are 8 Bestselling Books to Get You There.

10. Make a research schedule and set deadlines

Like any complex project, research requires structure to progress amid the nearly infinite availability of sources. To avoid rabbit hole tangents, make a schedule with set deadlines for each research stage, from initial inquiries to source gathering, note taking, and report writing.

Building accountability will motivate you to steadily accumulate the robust sourcing needed to complete the manuscript — without letting perfectionism lead to analysis paralysis.

Related: Research, Plan and Strategize: The Fundamentals of Starting Out as an Entrepreneur

11. Know when to stop

It's easy to get seduced by the research process, continuing to amass more sources, facts, and tangents indefinitely. But at a certain point, you'll reach diminishing returns. Additional research eventually provides only marginal value to the core book.

Set a cut-off date and stick to it. Consider the research phase complete once you have broadly representative sources and notes to substantiate key claims and narratives. Trust that you've laid the needed groundwork.

In nonfiction, readers demand bulletproof sourcing and accuracy. Following rigorous research, methodology ensures your book meets high standards of credibility expected from publishers and readers. So, dive deep, take detailed notes and verify every claim. Your due diligence during the research phase will pay dividends when crafting compelling content.

Vikrant Shaurya

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Authors On Mission

Vikrant Shaurya is the CEO of Authors On Mission, where his team provides Done-For-You book writing, publishing, and marketing services. He has empowered 500+ authors to grow their brands and businesses through their books, making a lasting impact.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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