The Importance of Proper Research (In the Age of Instant Gratification)

I've read all of these. Not really.

I’ve read all of these. Not really.

I went to college for writing, for English, and for words. I. Love. Words. I love to write. I love to read. The world is a fascinating place. There’s so much info out there it’s scary. YET I was terrible at writing a research paper because I didn’t understand how to properly research. I thought a quick scan was “good enough.” I still do. It’s an art to write good research papers.

I do not reference this idea in this blog post: MLA format, Chicago format, quotes vs. italics vs. underline, not in this post. I refer to researching for knowledge and not for publishable content (although this gives me a wonderful idea for a future blog post).

With the encapsulation of so much infotainment in the media, so much of what I call “instant research,” there’s a whole hell of a lot of information being lost in the annals of the internet.

I’ll explain why instant research is killing the writing community:

1. IT MAKES US LAZY. Period. I really don’t have to go any farther into it than this. In comparison to professionals in the field(s) of study, or writers from the 1980s to earlier, we, on average, as writers, are lazy. Like, super lazy. We put a word or phrase into Google and simply go down the line of information, picking out what we deem is important, and then wing it. We let others do the work for us, so we don’t have to do it. It’s disastrous.

Why is this disastrous, you ask? If someone else has already done it, then it’s done. Why look over the details of a thing? Why continue to look into a situation, event, lifestyle, when the surface information is right there? Well. This brings us to point 2:

2. We Trust Too Easily. Sorry, lasses and gents, but this is hardcore important to understand: people are imperfect. People fabricate. People translate. People paraphrase. Mistype. And people don’t know what you’re looking for all the time. And in following the instant research angle, you’re perpetuating the mistake. (Oh? All sailors drink when they’re on dry land? Okay!) Whatever it may be. So much of today’s blog work, information, media is geared toward ONE thing and ONE alone: clicks. That’s it. Subject matter is often immaterial. Or falsified. Or entirely untrue. Deeper research is VERY important because integrity and respect is at an all-time low. It’s disgusting.

We trust too much in assuming someone else has our best interests in mind. Why? In order to be a strong researcher, you MUST find the information on your own, as close to the source as possible, so you can interpret the data and the commentary as unique, original content. If you’re researching some event, you look for eyewitness accounts. You don’t pursue the eyewitness’s second cousin who lives in the Ukraine to tell you about it. Why do this with other research?

3. Jack of all trades and master of none. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before. Poor research reflects in your work. If your MC is a brilliant woodcutter but you don’t know what dovetail means, how can he be anything? You can SAY he’s brilliant, and everyone loves his work, and he’s won awards, yada yada, but it’s a total copout. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians does a little of this: since Mr. Grossman isn’t a genius, and prefers instead the broad strokes, he wings it with explaining what his characters do for magic. For me, the book suffers because of it. He understands alcohol really, really well, so he focuses on it. He even spends time discussing high-end wines. But abstract thought? Complex magical theories? He did a little research, yes, but ultimately he’s shown (and directly, his MC is shown) to be more into alcohol tolerance than magic brilliance. Which is cool, I guess. His story. He has merits. But. Stronger research could have helped in this situation.

You’re revealed to know a little about many things, but specifics fail you. For example. You want some sexy female Antagonist to be a mountain hiker. So you say she wears skintight yet breathable gear, great soles on her shoes, have a toned body, and move on. Hey! She climbs rocks freehand and possibly even has ropes for rappelling. That’s what you need to hike mountains. True. But in this there’s no end to research: climb/hike sites in the USA such as the Appalachians or the Rockies, or specific trails IN said areas, are important for backstory. Competitions, dreams, aspirations, needs. Then you can get into the gear: does she prefer flexible shoes or stiff? Open-top or Vibram sole or moisture-wicking waterproof Gore-Tex? Lightweight or durable? And brand is important. Columbia or Arc’teryx or North Face or Gregory backpack? Hydration system? The details are phenomenally important to explain what kind of a person she is. Because fabric seams rub the shoulders wrong on some, make you sweat more on others, sit poorly on the lumbar region. And knots. Don’t forget being able to tie knots. And calluses. And technique. And weight balance. And war stories. You get the point. Taking the lazy way out, doing a surface search for what a hiker uses, kills the environment. Kills it. Because I look at “she climbs mountains” and I say: PROVE IT. If you can’t, your book is discarded.

I love the outdoors. I have a rudimentary knowledge of rock climbing. I love outdoor gear. I researched all that for one of my characters–and literally used NONE of the name-dropping in the story. Why? Because it isn’t important to the story. His shoes flexed more than some shoes, the seam hit his collar bone wrong and rubbed annoyingly, his water system broke because it snagged on a limb… all details of the story that make it real. Or, more real. And the same goes for any profession or hobby. Painting? Plumbing? Biking? Sword-swallowing? All. Need. Details.

4. The Death of the Library. It sometimes seems we all know the same stuff about a subject. We go, “Hey. I read the online info. I get it.” But that isn’t necessarily the case. The library has so much hidden information that most surface-level online infer doesn’t. Why? Books are written to chronicle the insight, the craft, the event. They aren’t relevant for two weeks and then disappear in another barrage of SEO (Search Engine Optimized) blogwork dedicated to? Clicks. They have content for the sake of content, and nothing else. It is a product into itself, and therefore inherently important. Furthermore, these books are so much easier to find while looking at a shelf than looking at a search engine. Plus EVERYONE reads the online info.

Example: I recently read an event that happened in my hometown. It was reported on several sites like CNN MSNBC and FOX, not to mention other local sites like two newspapers and local news. Yet every. Single. Article was lifted from another article and pasted with different photographs. A few little bits were altered, like who said what, or what eyewitness saw what, but overall, across the board, it was the same. No unique insight, no due diligence. Two paragraphs written in a desperate plea to create content. The days after, I kept looking for new details, and nope. Same two paragraphs, but elaborations were written about the area, the people involved, who owned what business and why, and speculation.

What would make YOUR content better than others? Uniqueness, originality, and a hard eye for detail. How would you get that? Outside the journalistic reports, places that others haven’t been. Or topics that others know little about. The best. Content. Is YOUR. Content. Period.

I can’t think of any other bullet points for this topic. I can’t stress enough how many new novels I tossed aside because the writer either didn’t know or didn’t care how to flesh out a character, scene, environment. I think it’s a generational thing, but I also think it’s an integrity thing. Self-published writers all over the place think that simply by sitting at a computer and pounding out a story, they’ve got something worth reading. While that’s sometimes the case, much more often it’s a line of crap because they don’t fully understand the material they’re writing about. And it shows by the lack of detail.

The internet, and media, allows us to pick up some TERRIBLE habits when it comes to research. People are used to tapping into a search engine and finding all they (supposedly) need, and because nobody’s come along to challenge them, they continue to perpetuate this flaw in writing. Please. I beg you. Do original research. Delve deep. Delve as deep as you can. And your writing will reflect a richness to it you can’t find through surface study.


2 thoughts on “The Importance of Proper Research (In the Age of Instant Gratification)

  1. I don’t know, mate. While I agree with you on the surface of this issue–writing does need to be well-researched to be believable–I think there’s such a thing as TOO well researched. If you devote too many pages to your baroque knowledge of mountain climbing, you’re likely to miss space and time in which you could be developing your antagonist as a person and not just as a mountain climber.

    On the other hand, somebody said about fantasy worldbuilding–and I think it was Orson Scott Card, and I may be misquoting him–that of the total (100%) knowledge you have of your world, only 10% will appear on paper. I think he makes a good point. Research is difficult for a lot of writers, I’d imagine, because the end results are often not immediately apparent in the work. For instance, that nifty fact about mountain climbing might never fit into your story: what type of backpack your antagonist uses might never be an issue that comes up. You could force it, but then you’re risking the integrity of your story by loading it down with too much detail. YOU, however, will know. And I do think this improves your understanding of your characters and what they value.

    And here’s me defending Mr. Grossman again–while I agree with you about the genius thing (this rankled me the whole way through the series, though it does get better in the third book especially), I think he spends more time talking about alcohol than magic theory in the first one because his MC, while a genius, is also an idiot college kid. Hell, I drank plenty in college, and while I might not have any claims to genius, I’m far from idiocy. Could I have told you more about beer on tap at the local watering hole than Spenser? Sadly, yes. Quentin gets this gift, this double gift of intelligence and REAL MAGIC FOR GOD’S SAKE, and he totally squanders it. To me, that’s more the basic character arc of the story than a fault of Grossman’s. And it’s a fairly contemporary and relevant one–privilege is the name of the game for a lot of kids out there in college right now, and Quentin exemplifies it at its worst.

    But yeah, you knew I was going to say all that, so anyway 😛 we totally do trust too easily. My dad, of all people, did a thing where he RIP’d Betty White on Facebook. It took a little while–and a couple of cross-posters also RIPing, I believe–before someone FINALLY looked it up and realized Betty White wasn’t dead. The internet is, in a lot of ways, the WORST place to get information. Is it convenient? Yes. Good for small stuff. But in the end, not only do you doubt the veracity of what’s being said, you don’t even know who’s saying it.

  2. Oh I agree. The pace of the story dies to detail unwanted. I rarely use more than 20% of what I learn about the subject, about a thing, because it isn’t important to the story. Unless it IS the story. (dun dun dunnnnnn)

    I understand your view on Grossman’s Magicians. Since the MC doesn’t care about discussing details, the reader doesn’t get them. I posit, on the other hand, before Q started drinking, the intensity WAS on the magic. And very little detail showed up. But I could be wrong. He might have given the same weight to alcohol as he did the early magic. I’ll defer to you, and your study, on this one. No more pigeonholing Grossman’s book. I promise. *halo*

    And that example is AWESOME about your dad. AND EXACTLY. I recently reposted a fake article (believing it was real) my editor posted (to be funny), and he immediately told me it was fake. Good on him. I felt like an idiot. Again. Every darn time I do something like that, seem to get Punk’d. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? SHAME ON Y–N-not going to be fooled anymore.” To quote George Bush. Murca.

    Anywho. Your insight is valued, as always. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s