How to Conduct Credible Research for Writers

research for writers

Tips on conducting credible research, for writers.

Today’s post is an excerpt from the book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. Enjoy!

“‘Research’ is a wonderful word for writers. It serves as an excuse for EVERYTHING.” — Rayne Hall

Almost all writers rely on research for facts and information. Even fiction writers and memoir authors, whose work is either made up from imagination or based on personal experience, will turn to research to fill in holes and answer questions.

We use encyclopedias, reference books, and articles from scholarly journals, and we rely on historical facts and data collected by researchers so we can write truthfully and honestly. We also use Google, Wikipedia, and a host of other material found online. All this research is supposed to strengthen our work and lead to better, more credible writing.

We absorb this information and then spit it back out in the words we write. Then people come along and read our words. Maybe they go off and repeat what they’ve read. Maybe they rehash our material in a blog post of their own. Maybe they use it in an academic paper, or perhaps it inspires a poem or a short story. The information itself is constantly making the rounds, getting processed, filtered, and regurgitated. How are we to sift through it all to find reliable facts? How do we tell the truth from the lies?

And telling truth from lies is essential in conducting research. Misinformation is widespread, especially on the Internet.

The Information Age

We are currently bombarded with information. It’s more accessible than ever before in history. Millions of facts can be yours with a few keystrokes and the click of a button. Yet, oddly, the spread of misinformation seems more rampant than ever. It’s becoming less common for sources to be cited and more likely that the so-called facts you read online are just somebody’s beliefs or suspicions.

I find the spread of misinformation grossly irresponsible (it’s one of my pet peeves). There are so many ways to get the facts straight, there is really no excuse for it. I’m not talking about misunderstandings or unintentional mistakes—I’m talking about either knowingly repeating things that are untrue or willfully failing to get facts straight before reporting or repeating them.

But what does this have to do with you as a writer? How does responsible research (or lack thereof) reflect on a writer’s credibility, and how does solid research and the use of legitimate citations lead to better writing?

Credible Research for Writers

It can be difficult to know when research is required to back up the facts. There are some things that we know from life experience or from working in a particular field over a long period of time. Other things are simply common knowledge. And much online writing (especially in blogs) involves doling out advice based on personal experience.

But when you’re presenting historical data, citing statistics, or quoting sources, you have a responsibility to get the facts straight and in some cases, you should also cite them, especially in nonfiction writing.

Citations are important for a few reasons. First, a citation gives your readers an opportunity to look further into the topic. Second, you are giving credit where credit is due, to whoever compiled the facts for your use. Third, by citing your sources, you are showing your own work to be responsibly researched and therefore accurate and credible.

How do you know when research or citations are required or warranted? Use common sense and foster a little curiosity. Start by asking questions. If you’re writing fiction, you don’t need to cite your sources. If you’re writing an academic essay, you do. In fiction and poetry, there is room for make-believe. You can use artistic license and bend reality, but beware of readers with high standards. For example, many science-fiction readers will harp on a book with faulty science. If you know your audience and publishing medium, they should guide how you approach research and citations.

How to Research for Writing

Here are some final thoughts to consider when you’re conducting research:

  • Books aren’t the only research materials you can use. Watch documentaries, conduct interviews, and check newspaper and periodical archives.
  • Check your work for claims or statements that are debatable or that warrant proof. Are you quoting a person or a text? Are you citing statistics? Are you making a claim?
  • Be smart about the research you conduct. Confirm the credibility of all your sources.
  • Double-check your facts (and their sources) to see if claims have been countered. Try not to be one-sided.
  • Cite your sources in the text, in footnotes, or in a bibliography (for books). On a blog or website, you can include a list of sources at the bottom of your article.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


32 Responses to “How to Conduct Credible Research for Writers”

  1. Great article! I love the tips you included for both writers AND readers!
    .-= Positively Present´s last blog ..inspired by the opposite of love =-.

  2. sefcug says:

    Great post!

    This is a lot of information to absorb, but it is also a lot of important information, at least in my opinion.

    • I’m a big advocate for information accuracy and knowing when to cite sources. I think these practices are becoming lost even though they are more important now than ever before. We’re living in the Information Age, and we all have a responsibility — especially bloggers!

  3. Seth M Baker says:

    Ask any politician: you can tell the zaniest lies and get away with it as long as you’ve got statistics to back up your lies. 🙂

    Seriously, though, you’ve hit a topic that, for me, falls into the category of ‘I should be doing this, but sometimes I just forget.’

    Citations are a win-win for everybody: the reader wins because they know they’re getting solid information. The writer wins because they look more credible.

    Since I started writing online, I’ve found delicious is indispensable for keeping track of stuff I might want to cite in the future. Too many times I’ve wanted to cite something I read in the pre-delic days, but I just can’t find it.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and getting it back on my radar.

    • Thanks, Seth! Yep, politicians know about the power of misinformation better than anyone, and so do some major media outlets (I’m not naming any names!). Ultimately, we each have to take responsibility for fact-checking, which is a real shame because it means there is a huge lack of responsibility and trust. As for us writers and bloggers, we just have to do our best to be reliable and credible.

  4. Deb says:

    This is really well put and thorough.

    I always cite other sources in posts. However, if the site does not meet certain family friendly or other criteria I do not post a hyperlink but I do tell them where to find the original and warn of the potential questionable issue with the site.
    .-= Deb´s last blog .. =-.

    • Deb, you could always include a warning that a site may be R-rated, or you could do what I do and just leave it up to the parental controls. I’ve linked to sites with strong language, but as a writer, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, all my life, I’ve found it curious that we’ve segmented certain words and deemed them vile. Language is supposed to be used as a form of communication and expression. Some words and language carry strong politically incorrect meanings or are offensive because they indicate bigotry, hatred, or personal insult, and these I don’t (personally) believe in using. However, other standard curse words don’t bother me (you know, your basic swear words). They’re just words!

  5. J.D. Meier says:

    Beautiful write up and timely.

    I just started studying argumentation. I can quickly see how knowing how to evaluate the strength of an argument (claims, evidence, inferences, warrants) can really help you build a case.

    What I especially like about argumentation is that it helps you improve your thinking. I also like the fact that it helps deal with all the areas that are not black and white. Facts you can simply look up. It’s when there’s an argument about “what to do” that the power of argumentation really shines.

    On blogging, one way I see people play it safe is writing from experience. It’s tough to argue with “in my experience …” It’s the shift from personal experience to generalizations where contraversy happens.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..3 Stories for Improving Your Thinking, Feeling, and Doing =-.

    • It’s definitely hard to argue with “in my experience.” One of the problems in argumentation is that some people cling to their beliefs and no amount of persuasion, facts, or data will sway them. I find the average person does not want to hear that what they think or what they’ve believed is wrong. Lately, I’ve been reading about food and health, and I find that some of the people I share my findings with refuse to accept that most of the food they eat is just plain dangerous. For example, even if you have scientific data to back up your claims, a person can simply say the scientists are untrustworthy or have ulterior motives. That’s good questioning when it’s coming from someone truly objective, but in some cases, people will just flat-out refuse to accept the facts, and often they’ll use their own unreliable sources as evidence (so they can keep eating Twinkies). It’s a strange world in which we live…

  6. Kelvin Kao says:

    I think citing sources is a good way to encourage discussion. It’s like watching the same TV show, watching the same movie, or reading the same book. If the reader can follow the link to look at whatever the source is, you two will be able to have a more in-depth discussion.

    I personally like to write what’s true, and when I make stuff up, I make it really far-fetched that people won’t think it’s true.
    .-= Kelvin Kao´s last blog ..The Origin of Slutty Halloween Costumes =-.

    • Kelvin, you are definitely talented when it comes to making stuff up. I love your stories, especially the last one about the man who lost his dog and got all crazy with installing locks!

  7. Marelisa says:

    Hi Melissa: I was reading a book that said that Charles Darrow had invented the game “Monopoly” while he was out of a job during the Great Depression. Then I started doing some research online and apparently he was just one of the people involved in creating the game. That brought the credibility of the author I was reading down a couple of notches. You do have to make sure that you say things as they really are. If there are contradicting stories of what you’re saying, you need to point that out.

    • I’ve caught myself writing about things that I “just know,” particularly obscure facts and trivia. I always try to check those facts when I’m publishing or sharing the information. What’s frustrating is that there are so many sources that have the wrong facts or contradictory information. I think a great skill in this century is being able to discern reliable sources. You are very good at doing that on your blog! I love the professionalism you have in citing sources. It gives me hope!

  8. Faith says:

    More than once, I’ve read a fiction novel and wondered… “where on EARTH did this author get his/her information???”, especially when dealing with historical details. I’d love to see more authors put reference pages at the back of their novels, or even simply “Further Reading Recommendations” on the subject. That’s something I hope to include in my own novels someday — I want my writing to have credibility, and I want to show people that I’ve done a lot of hard work in putting together a manuscript.

    When it comes to nonfiction, if you don’t cite your sources, I literally cannot trust you. You didn’t prove to me that you bothered to do your research, and I can’t verify your facts if things sound a little ‘off’. It’s too easy to alter data or write ‘truths’ that are skewed to the writer’s agenda — I want to be able to go to your sources and learn more, or be amazed that the fact you quoted is, in fact, true!
    .-= Faith´s last blog ..Flex Your Marketing Muscle =-.

    • Hi Faith! Thanks for commenting. I have different feelings about novels that aren’t factually accurate. I tend to have a greater admiration and respect for works of fiction that do adhere to historical (or current) facts, but since we’re talking about fiction, I also don’t mind if writers take creative liberties. I remember a big fuss was made over James Cameron’s film Titanic because he stuck to the facts down to the most minute details — even ensuring the designs on the teacups were the same as on the actual ship (or so I heard). For nonfiction, it depends on whether the book is a memoir or a reference book. Obviously, a memoir is a person’s own experience (no research required — just a lot of remembering). But other nonfiction books should have a healthy bibliography!

  9. Paul says:

    Absolutely…this is one fact in life I’ve come to learn the hard way when i got a “rejection slip” from a reputable online writing company i had subscribed to in a bid to work with as a freelance.I was well aware of the unethical fact of plagiarism prior to this and i had read their policies and strict penalties on it but somehow,i rushed things up due to deadline pressures and compromised on the quality of my writing.I did some citations alright but it failed to give due credit because i just happened to be lifting words and thoughts from the sources directly without making any effort on my own.So, not only is it important to include sources in your work but also necessary to apply the principles held in the sentiments expressed by the author to your particular situation.Doing this will enable you to write naturally and freely while still holding on to the line of thought expressed in your sources and therefore still owing them credit.

    • Plagiarism isn’t merely a problem when you’re submitting your work to a publication — it’s unethical in any context. It’s pretty simple: if you use someone else’s words, you quote them and give proper attribution. It’s rampant on the Internet. But I still don’t know how or why anyone would think it’s okay to take credit for something that someone else wrote, even if it’s just a few sentences or a paragraph. Be honest and do your own work. Paul, I encourage you to use this lesson and help others understand that plagiarism is wrong.

  10. Teresa says:

    I enjoyed this topic very much. I feel it is important to be truthful and accurate when sharing information with others. As an emerging writer I have to admit I haven’t always gave much thought to that aspect when doing a piece, but I agree it’s essential. I started doing some research about a certain area in France while writing a short story for a contest last month. Finding out the distance from one city to another and also other geographical aspects of the area gave my fiction a more realistic tone. I can really see the benefits of getting your facts straight. Thanks for the tips. Keep them coming.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Teresa. Readers can be vicious when authors don’t get their facts straight (sometimes a little too vicious, if you ask me) so we all need to be diligent about the details!

  11. Glenn J. Meade says:

    Great story, I am a new writer and find reading this sites information very helpful. Looking forward to finish my two writing projects so yu all can read them, Thank you and to All A Happy New Year ! God Bless

  12. Joni M Fisher says:

    Thank you for your advice! I adore reading a well-researched story because of the take-away factor. I’m entertained while I learn.

    • Even though we can’t always learn from fiction, since so much of it is made up and doesn’t necessarily stick with the facts or truth, there are many examples where we can learn new things. For example, historical fiction may not be 100% accurate, but it can give us a sense of what it was like to live in the past. Science fiction is often well researched, too (although not always!).

  13. J.l. Boynes says:

    I love your articles! They are so helpful. I am striving to be a writer and your articles provide the best information. Thank you.

  14. Trina Lea Grant says:

    I still use the tried-and-true school method of “note-carding” my facts. Of course, now I use a computer program to keep up with this info, but I still color-code the sources.

    I do a lot of academic writing, so this is pretty much old hat to me, but I can imagine that people who have lost those research skills learned in high school might have a hard time with citations and documentation.

    I would suggest the site that is my citation bible, the Purdue Owl ( It is, as far as I know, the go-to source for most colleges and researchers. Also, sites like JSTOR (, a database of academic journals, is a wise investment if you are going to need a lot of credible sources.

    Final thought: Wikipedia is never, ever a credible source, but is a good starting point.

  15. Krithika Rangarajan says:

    Statistics – much like quotes – are prone to misinformation!

    As someone who spends most of her time researching for clients, I often fall into the trap of regurgitating a statistic that was wrong in the first place! I need to be more careful….but I always link to the source.

    Your post reminded me of that hilarious picture quote: “The thing about quotes on the Internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity” – Abraham Lincoln


    Thanks Melissa #HUGS


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