When Should You Conduct Research For Your Novel?

People always say to write what you know. And that’s great, but then your novel would be pretty limited, wouldn’t it?

I find writing to be a great opportunity to write about something you don’t know. Find something that interests you that you never pursued and look into it more.

For example, when I was younger, before I decided to be a teacher and realized I wanted to write, I dreamed of being a spy or a detective. I had those play spy kits with notepads and pretend handcuffs and glasses that you would see behind you–the whole nine yards.

And look at me now: I write mystery novels. I’ve studied the police exam to get a feel of what it’s like. I solve puzzles and riddles in mystery video games (one where I’m a defense lawyer). I have books where I study what it’s like to be a police officer or detective, looked up various ways to die and the consequences of murder, and much more.

Let me tell you, it’s not very glamorous.

But when do you conduct that research? Do you cram the information into your mind before you begin? Maybe you research a bit here and there in the moment as you write? Or maybe you just free write, bold scenes you’re unsure of and do the research part after you finish writing?


Here’s your answer: You can research anytime.

That’s it. The end. See you tomorrow.

Well, I did decide to start a post about this, so I guess I’ll elaborate…

Research before writing

There are two reasons you should research before you start writing your novel:

1. You’re a planner.
2. You have a decent list of topics you need to look into or else the first draft of your novel will make absolutely no sense.

When I first started my mystery novel way back when I decided to do the research after. I knew I had a lot to look into and instead of spending a few months trying to learn it all, I figured I would just have the research component be part of the editing process. Or, look small things up along the way.

I love to outline, so I made a list of things I didn’t know, things I would probably need to know or the sake of my novel. I listed them but didn’t bother to look into them right away. Needless the say, the first draft of my novel wasn’t very good, to say the least.

I’ve done research before writing a novel and let me tell you, it’s a lot of notes to dig through as you write. And it slows the actual writing part down a bit.

Research during writing

I’ll admit, I find this one to be the most effective. If you need to know certain tidbits here and there, a quick Google search in the middle of your writing isn’t so bad. If you have something large to expand on, then it may be easier to make a note of it and just go back to it in the editing process.

The perks of researching as you write are as follows:

1. It saves you a bit of time when editing.
2. It gives you a small break in the middle of writing.

While it saves you time with editing, I know you’re thinking that it doesn’t save you time writing at all. But, it gives you a break with the writing.

If you’re on a roll, bold what you don’t know, and move on. Keep writing if your imagination allows it. However, if you notice that your flow has slowed down and you keep thinking back to that one spot you’re unsure of, stop.

Researching in the middle of your writing will give your brain a quick break. It’ll help you figure out where to go next, based on your research, and you may even come up with new ideas.

Research after writing

So you’ve finished a novel and it doesn’t make any sense. You have a list of topics to research, big and small.

Well, go ahead and get started.

Doing your research when you finish the novel helps your editing process get underway as you expand on certain scenes and realize others may not work out as well now.

Then again, you may end you being in for some serious rewriting. Editing is always a long process and adding the research part will make it seem longer. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You should take your time with it after all.

In Conclusion…

Is researching part of the outlining process or the editing process? Who really knows?

In the end, it’s up to you, up to the novel, and is an in-the-moment kind of thing.

I personally research at any stage of the novel, but I’ll admit I mostly research during and at the end of writing the novel. When you research before you may not know all the information you actually need.

Plus, I’ve always enjoyed researching as long as it wasn’t for a paper for school.

When do you typically research for your novels? How do you go about it? Let me know in the comments below!

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38 thoughts on “When Should You Conduct Research For Your Novel?

  1. I research as I go along in my Witch City Mystery series. Love the research part, even though it sometimes leads me down a rabbit hole! Always careful to double check everything though. If you make a mistake or research is sloppy, some reader somewhere will catch it! For my most recent mystery Murder Go Round I learned quite a bit about Russian history, carousels and pastry cooking!

    • The research part is a lot of fun and it’s great to learn new things! It’s one of the best things about writing. There’s always something new to learn. 🙂

  2. I always research while I’m writing. Then the information is still fresh and actually brings life to the writing. Nothing like good clarity on an unknown topic to give you a better sense of what you’re writing and making it more believable. I’ve spent a lot of time on research since I’ve become a planner haha!

  3. My answer would be: research all the time! But then, I can vouch for that being a good recipe for not getting much writing done. 🙂 For me, the challenge is researching enough to find the answers to the questions I didn’t think to ask. For instance, for my fantasy novel, I’m reading up on what foods they had available in the real-life Middle Ages and how they used them. I ran across a mention about how wine was still in barrels at that time because glass was expensive and they didn’t have good corking methods. Oops — I never thought to ask about whether they had bottles! Better go back and take out all those mentions of bottles…

    • I feel like research never ends, but you’re right-it can be used as a procrastination method.
      And that’s a good point. You happened to stumble upon new things you hadn’t even thought of!

      • Yes, when it gets to the “never ending” stage I do have to ask myself if I’m going overboard and really just avoiding writing. But then, I never know which research will end up being the important stuff. So I note it down in the right place in my world-building files, with links to the pages (which sometimes still work two years later), and sometimes the oddest detail ends up being crucial later on.

    • LOL!! That’s a good example of what I do too. Besides, research often brings up ideas you’d never think about on your own. That’s why I love researching.

      • The same thing happens to me. Sometimes some unexpected thing I learn about ancient Rome or Medieval Europe inspires a new tangent on my world-building, and I end up basing a whole religion or culture on that one thing. Fun!

  4. As you say, all the way through! Depending on genre and subject matter of course. My Steampunk novel took alot of research into details of Victorian life, but that gave me plot fodder too. Who knew that opium was part of life in the fens of northern Norfolk and even given to children in Victorian times?

    My Fantasy novels, despite being set in a world I created, required some scientific research about details of how life underground might actually work. It all adds to the realism. The number of times I’ve wandered off the day’s writing to follow a trail of research…

    • It really does give you great plot ideas!
      Lol, I’ve spent many hours researching before… it can be a distraction, but a good one.

  5. I agree that research is very important. Even my children’s books require some research as what you write about needs to hang together properly and be factually correct. I write factual publications which require a lot of research. I usually do some research up front so that I can get an idea of where I want to go with the document and then research various components as I go along.

    • That’s a good way of doing it. Sometimes, as I outline, I make a list of things I need to research. Some I don’t need to do right away, others I do.

  6. There are two kinds of research. One is fact-checking, which can be done when the fact is needed, or noted and done after a writing session (so as to avoid rabbit holes). The other kind is when you need to absorb atmosphere, or gather background information about something you’re not familiar with but that’s important to your work in progress (culture, philosophical outlook, social situation). I find it’s best to read anything and everything (impossible, of course) that relates to that subject. That reading may very well inspire you to write, so don’t hold back! Swim in the subject! Doing this kind of immersive research, I take notes if I feel the need, but the note-taking is a way to soak up the milieu I’m trying to internalize. I rarely refer to the notes afterward, when I’m heavily into the writing part.

    • You’re right. Sometimes the research is a quick answer to something whereas sometimes it’s a lot more in-depth. My sister and I are looking into archery and fencing classes for the sake of our novels. You have to take in all that you can get. 🙂

  7. I’ve learned during my last NaNoWriMo that I need to have a good grasp of the subject before I start writing, otherwise the story will just fade. I write historicals fiction, and if I don’t have a decent grasp of the time, the story just won’t happen.
    So for me, researching before writing is a must 😉

    • With that genre, you have to research before hand. I’ve met a lot of people through my blog that mention they write historical fiction and I can only assume that it can be tricky at times. 😉

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