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In order to write a fiction, you need to be an expert in your plot, as well as your characters. Thus you need to "do your homework" or conduct research about what you are writing, whether it's a historical bio-pic or a contemporary story. And by researching a diverse range of people, your characters will be more diverse (and not just several copies of yourself or your close friends and family). Delving in the research will not only make your work more authentic and compelling, but also will spur your creativity.
There is no such thing as too much research. Hopefully you will be sucked in to the sources you find, with one source leading you to others. But you don't want it to be an excuse to not writing...
Need to brush up on a historical event, famous person, geographic area quickly?
Try encyclopedia entries such as Wikipedia but also ones the library has purchased that have gone through a solid editorial process.
Search the EWU Library Catalog and limit your results to Format Reference Entries. We have several hundred encyclopedias online.
Go as Close to the Source as Possible
The most useful sources are going to be primary sources or first-person accounts: interviews, letters/diaries, photos or footage from the time period, etc. Are these sources objective? Quite the opposite. But the idea is to get as close to "in the head" of your characters.
The next most useful are nonfiction works grounded in research: historical works, sociological studies, etc., ideally written by researchers or possibly journalists, but that's not an absolute requirement. The less "academic" the text, the less objective and balanced the text will be. That doesn't make it a bad source, just a less balanced source. And the more "academic" texts tend to be, but not always, more dry.
I'd Rather Watch a Video...
We have a database with thousands of documentaries you can stream.
You will want to understand the place your setting your story as well as you know your hometown. Look at:
Want some official statistics about your place? Try:
Assuming that you either you cannot directly interview relevant people, or you want to supplement your in-person interviews, here are some tips on locating interviews in print.
If the book is primarily an interview with a person, or if a large portion of the text consists of interviews with various people, then the book will be given the subject heading [person or type of person] -- Interviews, for example Social workers -- Interviews.
You can try just adding the keyword interviews in the search box, but you will also get results that have the word interviews anywhere in the record. So if you get too many, try narrowing the search to interviews in the subject field. Do this by using Advanced Search.
Magazine, Newspaper or Scholarly Articles in Our Databases
There's no consistent use of the word interviews as a subject heading in our article databases. And just searching interviews brings up too many irrelevant results. I have found that it helps to narrow better if you use the exact phrase "interview* with" instead, along with the person or type of person, and any other themes. (interview* will search interview or interviews.)
Academic Search Ultimate is a good place to start, since it has a large number of articles from newspapers and magazines, along with scholarly journals. Note all your limiters on the left side.
The subject headings aren't as useful here, because they aren't consistent. The one term that sometimes comes up in the subject headings that isn't obvious is correspondence. So add this string to your search:
(letters OR diar* OR autobiography OR memoir* OR correspondence OR "personal narratives") AND [person or type of person]
If I wanted books with primary accounts of Chinese immigrants, I'd search (I am in the Advanced Search):
(letters OR diar* OR autobiography OR memoir* OR correspondence OR "personal narratives") chinese immigrants
Digitized and Archival collections
There are tons of primary source materials that have been digitized and can be found on the web. The trick is locating them in amongst all the other websites in a Google search. As with any Google search, the more specific you can be, the easier to find.
Most of the collections are going to be found in Archives or Special Collections of libraries (both university and public libraries) and in historical societies and museums. The traditional method for archives to promote their holdings is through describing the content in finding aids. ArchiveGrid is a searchable catalog of over 5 million records from over 1,000 archives. The collections may or may not be digitized.
But lots of archival materials haven't been digitized, nor have their collections been included in ArchiveGrid. This is where it gets interesting! If you have found some really good historical or nonfiction, academic books on your topic, look through the references and see if they discuss where they found archival material. Otherwise, I would suggest narrowing your geography to a particular city and see what archives are in the area. The Society of American Archivists maintains a directory by city. Call them and find out whether they have anything relevant.
Visiting an Archives in Person or Requesting Materials
If you know the name of the archive that has relevant materials, but you've exhausted what has been digitized, go to the About Us or Visit Us part and note what restrictions they place. Many have limited hours and staff, and a few are picky about who they let in. (You may have to email asking for permission and justify your need.)
You may be able to get copies of the relevant materials sent to you. Policies vary from archive to archive, so see what they say on the website, or call them.
For more detailed information about using archives, see Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research from the Society of American Archivists.