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Ten Tips for Effective Research Trips Part 1

by Vickie McDonough

I’ve just returned from my first cruise to the Caribbean. I never dreamed a sunset could be so beautiful or the color of the water so vivid. There was such an amazing difference in the houses of the poor, made from tin or only partially built with people still living in them to the lavish mansions of the wealthy with their beautiful flowers and fancy locked gates. When I visited Charleston several years ago, I was awed by the 300-year old homes and buildings, especially when you consider I grew up in Oklahoma where we just celebrated our centennial five years ago. The only thing we have that’s 300 years old is the land. In North Dakota, I was amazed by how the flat lands, which seemed to go on for forever, suddenly turned into hilly mounds and then the rugged, grassy Badlands.

Research trips are one of the best perks a writer enjoys. Traveling to a place you want to write about makes your story more realistic and alive. You’ll discover tidbits that you probably wouldn’t if you never visited the area, and seeing it for yourself is so beneficial to learning the lay of the land, the culture, flora and fauna of the area, and how the local people of the speak and live. These this make your story authentic.

So, how do you prepare for a research trip?

1. Know what information you need and make a list. The last thing you want is to get back home and realize you forgot to get info on something crucial to your story.

2. Research the town or locale before you leave home.
*View online websites
*Study the history of the area
*Decide in advance which places you want to visit. Museums and tourist sites in small towns are sometimes only open on certain days and for a few hours at a time, because they are often staffed by volunteers. The last thing you want to do is to make a trip somewhere and not be able to visit the sights you want to see. Do I sound like the voice of experience here? Make a list of the sites you want to visit, with addressees, phone numbers(so that you can call if you need directions) and hours.
*If you’re a AAA member, get a tour book of the state. They have some good historical information as well as a listing of the main places to visit with contact information, hours, and prices.

3. Take Good Notes. Document everything. Even though you think you’ll remember things, once you get back home, minute details and impressions will slip your mind. Most phones have a video recorder, which can be handy for places where you’re not allowed to take photos, like some museums. If you tour a historical home, you might want to record the tour guide, who usually gives lots of great info about the family who lived there and the town’s history.

4. Be sure to write down contact info and the names of the people you talked with (get the correct spelling) in case you need to contact them again or want to acknowledge them in your book when it comes out.

5. Don’t forget your camera. I take tons of pictures on research trips.(All the pictures in this article are ones I’ve taken) Pictures of buildings, houses, waterways. When I can take photos in a museum, I snap pictures of furniture, dishes, guns, wagons-anything that represent the time period I plan to write about. Also take pictures of the landscape, trees, birds, and flowers.

I hope I’ve enticed you to consider taking your own research trip. Come back tomorrow for the last five tips.

Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of 24 books and novellas. Her books have won the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Contest, Texas Gold, the ACFW Noble Theme contest, and she has been a multi-year finalist in ACFW’s BOTY/Carol Awards. Vickie is the author of the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series from Barbour Publishing. Watch for her new books from Moody Publishers, Texas Trails: A Morgan Family series, in which she partners with Susan Page Davis and Darlene Franklin. Also, next year brings the release of another new series from Guidepost/Summerside, Pioneer Promises, set in 1870s Kansas.

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