10 Tips for Great Research Interviews

10 Tips for Great Research Interviews  

You may have heard the advice “Write what you know.” But what if you want to write about something you don’t know anything about? Find someone who knows. We’ve interviewed modern day shepherds, airline pilots, engineers, trauma physicians, people from other cultures. Each interview is different and can be valuable in providing the authenticity and detail for your writing. Here are a few tips we’ve learned.

  1. Start with relationship. Spend some time connecting with your interviewee. Get to know him or her as a person.1965017_816271478388718_612352803_n
  2. Keep questions open ended. Yes and no questions don’t get you the details you need. Ponder ahead of time what will be the best questions to encourage the interviewee to talk.
  3. Be respectful of boundaries. Let your interviewee determine how much they are comfortable sharing about their personal lives. Don’t push, but be ready to go there with them.
  4. Be prepared. Do your homework; learn as much as you can in advance. Search the Internet or read books about the person. We find that the interviews are more productive if we have already written a first draft of the story or chapter. Then we know what blanks to fill in with our expert.IMG_0374
  5. Don’t be too structured. Some of the most interesting things we’ve learned were not from questions on the list. Sometimes, you don’t know what to ask.
  6.  Don’t send advance questions. For an informal interview it’s best to explore the subject together. Sending advance questions makes the interviewee focus on your questions rather than the subject.
  7. Listen. Sounds obvious but too often we focus on ourselves and what we are going to say or ask next. Stay focused on what your interviewee is revealing.
  8. Record the session. (We use our cell phones.) Take the focus off of note taking and trying to remember every detail. You’ll be thankful later when you listen to the tape. We’ve been amazed to find information on the tape that neither of us remembers the interviewee saying.1965075_10203555232787948_961820612_n
  9. Respect time. Set an amount of time in advance for the interview and let the person know.
  10. Express thanks. Follow up with a note or email of thanks. You can also bring along a book as a thank you, email a few photos you took, or send a copy of the article or book later when it comes out.

 

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers   www.WritingSisters.com

Shepherd Song

How to Write a Non-Fiction Book

Seven years ago, I had so much I wanted to say. I began writing recklessly and randomly, telling my story in various ways.

Five years ago, my agent said people responded to my self-care ideas. My writing found a focus. I made “self-care” the hub.

Then I made a mindmap. Every idea branched off.

I read, I highlighted, I compiled lists and notes. I hoarded quotes and stories. I dreamed, I gazed, I thought, I prayed.

I researched. Not only books but scientific articles too.

Then I gave each chapter a home, inside a file, inside a box. I sorted my quotes, articles, and ideas and tucked them inside those files within the box.

I wrote chapters. I met with critique partners — we sharpened iron. Each new edit was placed into the file. It was a messy hodge podge.

We ate and drank, laughed and cried, and spurred each other on. No one does anything of value alone.

I piled everything into one document and sent it to my agent, who got it sold. A team of editors believed in what I’d written.

The first edit is done. (I love editors!) As of now, I have a title, but I can’t tell anyone until the board approves.

I’m not sure how the book finally gets finished. I don’t know what the cover will look like or when I get to write my acknowledgements, back cover, etc. I have much to learn, but you can be sure I’ll write another post telling you what happens.

Have you written a book? What was your process?

The Joy of Research

What’s black and white and red all over?

Or is it “read” all over?

No matter.

The answer is: The desk of a writer.

Covered in words and, yes, sometimes blood, my writing nooks are piled high with books, inch-thick binder clips full of internet printouts, magazines, journals, sticky notes and more. Commonly known as research, this is what the necessary, most rewarding (and fun!) part of the novel-writing process looks like.

Many novels are character-driven, so some folks might not think research plays much of a role in writing a solid story, especially if you’re following the old adage, “write what you know.” However, for characters to have depth, you have to know them. Really know them. You have to know their hobbies, their likes, and their dislikes. You need to know what it felt like to grow up in their hometown and region. You need to know what it feels like to live in the current story setting as well.

So, if you’re new to the writing process, I thought I’d share three research tips with you today.

Research tip #1: Libraries are not dead.

When I’m in all-out research mode, you can find me at my local library at least twice a week, if not more. I live in a relatively small town, so sometimes the strange call numbers I need are not represented on the shelves. But thanks to an amazing, free system called Evergreen Indiana, I can (and do) check out books from all over my state. In fact, Evergreen offers over 2.6 million bibliographic records and provides access to over 6.2 million items. (I think I’ve checked out 1.2 million so far!)

The internet cannot replace the richness of photography and history found in books. Also, books make me feel hot on a story trail like a blood hound after a fox, especially when references at the back of one book open up a wealth of resources and other books I never considered.

The other great (and possibly the best) thing about libraries: there’s no dust or laundry vying for my attention.

Research tip #2: The internet rocks.

If you’re as old as me, you might remember when the go-to resources for current event research were microfilm reels, aperture cards and microfiche. Only after thumbing through phone book-thick books of references could one find relatively current articles on a research topic. Then, there was no guarantee the library carried that journal or magazine. And if it did, squinting through the microscope-like lenses to try to find the information led to headaches and frustration.

Thank goodness for the internet. A few key strokes and you’ve got a gold mine of information to cull through. Here are a few of internet research sites I find especially helpful:

Research tip #3: Master the art of conversation (or listening, rather).

I’m lucky to be a nurse as well as a writer. Not just because it allows me to have enough money to eat, but also because it offers me so many chances to talk to and learn from folks I’d otherwise never meet. My favorite patients are octo- and nonagenarians, because I can pick their wise and nimble brains for topics like what it really felt like to live through the depression and what really makes a marriage work for 60+ years.

But you don’t have to be a nurse (or a patient, for that matter) to enhance a story. For one of my novels, I spent an afternoon talking to a local bar owner five states away, just to hear what he had to say about local lore and life.

Take time to listen to people,  and you’ll gather interesting story ideas otherwise never imagined.

What about you? What are your favorite research tools? Websites? Resources?

How to Get Any Book Into Your Lap…Free!

Have you ever been in the situation of wanting to look up one item in a book, but the book is either expensive or obscure. Chances are you turn to your local library. Many people know about Interlibrary Loan (ILL) within their own library system, but what happens if your library system doesn’t carry a specific book?

In my last post I described how to get ahold of serious research in professional journals by accessing your library’s computer database. Today I want to describe how to get any book, from places all over the world, and have it delivered directly to your library branch?

The first time you do this it may seem tedious, but once you know how, it’s a breeze. I typically order about a dozen books a month this way. Your library system may vary, but here’s how my library does it:

  1. Bring up my library web site: Jefferson County Library
  2. Click on maroon-colored icon called “Research tools”
  3. This brings up:  “Subscription Databases A – Z” Click on this.
  4. In the Databases A to Z, click on “W” and choose “World Cat” or scroll down to “World Cat” Click link.
  5. Search for book. It is best to put several items in the search boxes. For instance, the book title and the author. Here I selected the title Seeking Peace and the author Mary Pipher. (I write about self-care and wanted to see how a bestselling author and psychotherapist burned out and subsequently learned to simplify her life.)
  6. When the world catalog finds your book, either print out the page, move it over to a dual monitor, or jot down the most important items: Publisher, year, and the OCLC number. (For Mary Pipher’s book the OCLC number is at the bottom of the page and is 233547957)
  7. Now go back to your library’s main screen. Choose the blue icon on the left side, “Find Library Books and More” – You will find a link called “Interlibrary Loan Request.” Double click. At the bottom of this page is a link called “ILL form for Books/AV Materials.” Click on that.
  8. Fill out the author, title of book, publisher/place/date, format (book, video, DVD), pick-up location (for me that is “Columbine Library”) and OCLC number.

*I don’t fill out the part about paying money for the request or the “cancel if not filled by date” information.

At the bottom of the page, I type my name and library card number.

Voila!

Almost any title from across the miles will be delivered right to my library. It takes about a week. If you find this confusing, go into your library and ask how you can use the World Catalog and Interlibrary Loan. Chances are your librarian has a bookmark with instructions already printed on them.

I’m curious, did you know you could do this?  What research tips do you have to offer writers?