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Quick Reference Guide to Research Methods

by Laurie Alice Eakes

Recently, I enjoyed the privilege of giving an ACFW chapter a short workshop on research methods. Others have found this helpful, so I am hopeful you all will, too.

Although I have more historical romances than Regency romances in print, I am known as a Regency author. And if anyone knows anything about readers of the Regency subgenre, they know that they are persnickety, to say the least. I’ve been on a fan list longer than I’ve been writing and the miniscule complaints about stories the readers make are enough to give me sleepless nights.

So I took my graduate coursework in research techniques and applied them to my writing.

Why is research important?
Regardless of time or place in which you are writing, someone will know you didn’t do enough research. A lack of research weakens the best of stories. And, researching something just to research, often leads to great story ideas. While reading a book on seafaring women, because I like the sea, I ran across a couple paragraphs about a midwife going to sea with her patients. I began the “What if” line of thinking, and my seafaring midwife heroine delivered Heart’s Safe Passage.

Libraries are not obsolete.

The Internet has not yet replaced libraries. Libraries have resources not on-line. CD-ROM hold old newspapers and personal journals not on Google Books or elsewhere, at least not for free. DVD travelogues show one places when one can’t get there in person. On-line resources like the Oxford English Dictionary and old photographs are invaluable to the historical a writer. Personally, I love the great big maps and atlases libraries hold.

Be careful with primary resources.

Getting the story from the horse’s mouth seems wonderful, and it is-with a caution: Not everyone has the same reaction to the same experience. It’s the auto accident scenario. Four people are at four different angles and have four different interpretations of what occurred.

The Internet isn’t always your friend.

Not all sites are created equal. Some are wonderful resources. Google Books is a platinum, gold, and diamond mine all rolled into one, for historical writers. For my book with a ballooning heroine, A Flight of Fancy, I found a dragon’s lair of original resources to treasure.

In working on other works, I have discovered a thousand potholes of misinformation deep enough to send me to Australia. Make sure that the giver of data has the credentials or resources to know what he is talking about, whether medically, geographically, or whateverly.

To best find the information you want when searching on-line, use as many terms as you can that relate to the subject you seek. If you want to know about photography in the 1850s, don’t simply say “history photography”. Try “history photography 1850s USA” (or wherever is appropriate) and specifics about what you want like portraits or a specific scene.

These are the basic techniques for gaining great research information. My final word of advice: Do not rely on only one source. Triangulate or better.


Laurie Alice Eakes won the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency for her first book. Since then, she has sold three more Regency romances, nine other books, three of which are also set during the Regency time period, and three novellas. She and her husband live in Texas.

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