Why Include Research?
You’re about to write the scintillating tale of your charity run around Australia to save the Blue-faced Stripey Tree Worm. You’ve kept a meticulous diary of your daily travels and have a plethora of anecdotes to enthral your readers. It’s your journey, your experience, your story. So why would you include extra research?
Of course, it depends on the type of piece you’re writing. If you’re penning a news story, academic paper or technical report; readers expect facts and figures. However, what if you’re writing creative nonfiction? By that I mean true stories that are told in an engaging way through the use of literary techniques such as action, dialogue, and metaphor. Isn’t the story more important in such writing? Story certainly is crucial to creative nonfiction, as detailed in my series of posts earlier this year (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3). However, good research can enhance the tale you want to tell. Here are some reasons why.
Have you ever read an article where something was stated as true, but no evidence was given to back it up? If you’re like me, this can lead to scepticism. Why should I give money to save the Blue-faced Stripey Tree Worm just because so-and-so says I should? Including research from credible sources verifies what you’re saying and carries more weight with readers. Conversely, if your information is obviously faulty (e.g. stating that the journey around Australia is only 5000 km), readers may question whether you’ve also taken liberties with the rest of the story.
Dave Hood notes that we can increase our own understanding of a topic by conducting research. While running around Australia, you may have passed a cemetery on Port Drive in the Western Australian town of Broome. Without doing research, would you know that it’s the resting place for hundreds of Japanese divers who died while working in the pearling industry? Maybe you could draw a link between your endangered Blue-faced Stripey Tree Worm and the divers whose lives were put at risk by the working conditions of the time. Understanding more about the people, places and topics you’re writing about can add context and depth to your writing.
Lee Gutkind notes that you can increase your readership if you ‘strike a universal chord’. Did you take up the running challenge after a health scare? If so, giving a few facts about the health condition could put readers in the picture and make them think, ‘Hey this could happen to me. Maybe I should do something to get fitter and healthier’. The Blue-faced Stripey Tree Worm might only live in the Daintree Rainforest, thus making it difficult for non-locals to feel for its predicament. If research shows that each state has dozens of endangered species, it might help readers see that they can help the wildlife of their region. By looking for the universal truth, you’re going beyond one person’s story and showing how everyone has a stake.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll look at how to gather research material for a non-fiction story and how to embed it in your narrative so that it captivates, rather than bores, your readers.
In the meantime, can you think of articles or books that have included research in an interesting way? I’d love to hear your examples.
Gutkind, L. (2012). You can’t make this stuff up: The complete guide to writing creative nonfiction from memoir to literary journalism and everything in between. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
Hood, D. (2012). Creative nonfiction: Doing research to increase understanding. Retrieved from https://davehood59.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/creative-nonfiction-doing-research-to-increase-understanding/
Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction. She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same. She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish. You can find her weekly writing tips blog at their website: http://www.thewriteflourish.com.au