Sharing Research Tips

Hello everyone,

I’m starting this topic to encourage members to share best practices and tips for faster and better research. In other words, what are the best tricks you’ve discovered over the years to increase the speed and/or quality of your research?

In the spirit of sharing, I’m going to start! Here’s a little trick that I’ve discovered lately that speed things up. Once you’ve swift through the books and articles on your subject, use post-it notes to mark sections of interest. Then use a speech recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking and dictate a quick summary of the content and your thoughts as you go through the text. Once the application has been “trained” to your pronounciation (takes a day or two), it goes a lot faster than writing or typing. If you practice this technique a little, it will also help you to find your own “voice” and thus keep you away from plagarism.

Do you want to be part of this discussion? I’m sure I’m not the only one that would love to hear others’ tips. So, please join in the conversation. And thanks in advance for your contribution!


The best research advice I can give is…

…if possible get someone else to do it for you.

This isn’t quite as flippant as it sounds. There are some areas of research that needs to be experienced first hand, such as visiting certain locations. But for anything requiring something approximating specialist knowledge, don’t do it yourself. It is far more efficient - and more likely to be accurate - to get someone who is already an expert tell you the answer. Usually they love talking about their interests / professions.

For example, for medical facts I go to Doug Lyle. He’s a US-based doctor who finds time to also write thrillers and consult for novelists and screenwriters. He’ll charge you for a book consult, of course, but for adhoc snippets such as 'how long will it take someone to die from snakebite? How would it be treated?" or a “my victim was hit with an axe, how would a medical examiner write up the cause of death in official language?” he’s happy to respond. Visit him at and buy his “forensics and fiction” book!

I recently started using this way of getting stuff off a page onto my computer in text form, but I didn’t use Dragon Naturally Speaking, I used Dragon Dictation on my iPhone. I didn’t have to train it at all, and in about a side and a half of A4, it only went wonky on under a dozen words, one of the consistent errors, interestingly, being “tongue”.**
When you use it, it adds the voice signal to a database on a server, so it has clearly built up a big repository of possible pronunciations, giving it its accuracy. I was with a Chinese friend who also uses an iPhone over the weekend, so I got her to try it with (Simplified) Chinese … only a sentence of about 20 syllables/characters … the first two characters were wrong, the rest perfect.
In all, much better than struggling to keep a book flat while typing out a quote. Mind you, given the discussion on the new DropBox terms of use, I don’t think I’d use this for anything sensitive, but for getting research into Scrivener/word-processor form on your computer, it worked well.


** I ought to say I have a pretty standard “RP” accent, and having done a lot of recording, am used to speaking into a microphone and creating a clear soundtrack.

DevonThink Pro or Pro Office for storage and local search, DevonAgent for researching the web, Curio’s Sleuth for digging out stills, Tinderbox for the first pass of trying to make sense of it all.

I have vic-k’s contribution (or mutterings from the other side of the WritersRoom).


I suppose we should really ignore him. :confused:

Thanks for everyone’s posts so far. I like pigfender’s suggestion to contact experts whenever possible. Makes so much sense. Like Hugh, I do use DevonThink Pro now and I love it. And I’m glad to hear from Mark that Dragon Dictation works well on iPhone - nice portable solution!

As for Fluff, I don’t understand your post. Does RTFM means what I think (Read the F… Manual)? What are you referring to?

Mr David
As with most of, His Obtuseness’s, assumptions and presumptions (they of the genera, 'erroneous), he probably believes there is a ‘Manual of (or even, Dummies’s Guide to), the Best Tricks You’ve Discovered Over the Years to Increase the Speed and/or Quality of Your Research.’

However, ignoring him, is generally the sensible thing to do. :wink:
Take care

Hi David et al,

Research, hmmm. Well, there are three types of research.

  1. Research your experience. This may not seem as “research” but in fact it’s really what we use most when writing something. It is what gives life to your story because it is taken from “real life,” so to say. It comes under the heading “Write about what you know most about”, i.e., your background, your experience. Without this, without looking into your own life, without considering what you know and in fact DON’T know (a very important issue), it is hard to start a project. Usually we wish to write about a subject that interests us and what to learn more about, but the best stories stem from what we know and desperately want to share. Examples: Grisham’s Legal thrillers, he being a lawyer. The more specialized a story is, that is, of a particular genre that needs “realism” of details, the better off you are making a list of what you know, and what you don’t know.
  2. Academic Research. This is what people usually consider “real” research. Going into webpages, books, articles, films, etc. Methods to do this research abound and we could get into this at another time. It helps your fill in the void in the things that you know about (see above) but actually realize you don’t know enough about. Dangerous indeed, as you have to double-check that something you know in fact is true or just assumption. You know about altitude sickness but you don’t really know how one feels. You can read it in a globetrotter’s manual, but one thing is to “do the research” another to have felt it yourself, but for lack of a possibility to actually climb that high, you need to go to a “source.”
  3. Researching “live” sources. Sometimes it’s enough to just read about the subject you wish to write about, at other times this is not enough, especially when the details are central to your story. Sources should also be asked not only what they know, but what they don’t know and who might know about it. Sources have networks of people that, when you call them saying so-and-so sent me, will be more willing to give you their time. Plus, all subjects have controversies. We live in a paradigm and some people don’t share it, have different views, could in fact be totally opposed to your view. As story only works if there is conflict, do ask about what conflicts there are in the particular area of your research. Thus you will be able to implement it into your yarn, conflict not only at the physical level and emotional level, but in fact of “theme.” Perhaps, due to your open-minded attitude, researching a subject may enable you to see more than one side and come to your own conclusions, which is what then gives your story a unique twist. It’s YOUR theory, in the end, you are writing about, and not someone else’s. It happened to me that when researching for a thriller, I ended up finding out the “missing” parts and was then asked to give conferences on the subject, and now actually write a non-fiction book about it.

Hugh, could you say anything more about your use of Curio?
I didn’t know that it had a web-browsing function.
I found an enthusiastic blog account about using it for research
But still, it looks like a long learning curve
And perhaps hours of endless fiddling & wheel-spinning.

My current research tools are
DevonNote, DevonThink Pro Office, EndNote X4, Scrivener
But I’m always experimenting with note-takers & outliners
I own Papers but don’t use it enough.
I’m beginning to collect many e-books,
But am frustrated by the varieties of formats/readers needed
And think none of them are good enough as annotators.
Oh, for a universal research, note-taking, outlining interface!

Curio’s value for me lies in its ability to support freehand, impressionistic mental doodling that can include a number of visual elements all in one frame: stills, video, tables, lists, text, sketches, index cards, simple mind maps, web snippets and freehand doodles themselves. It’s true: anything you can do on a large office white-board, you can do in Curio, and more. I can see why it promotes itself to the advertising industry.

So, for example, let’s say you want to set a fictional story in a real location whose characteristics are important to the plot. With Curio, you can bring into a single picture a map, and stills via Sleuth, and then itemise key plot events in lists or labels, sketch journeys for the characters through the terrain with a Bamboo tablet, doodle connections between scenes, add freehand notes, maybe include video of real people whom you wish to use as models, and even crudely storyboard the action. I don’t know of any another consumer application that allows you to play with ideas and possibilities on the screen to the same extent. (Maybe Hollywood has devised some?)

I‘ve found it better for fiction than Tinderbox (which I think is probably better for making sense of a factual argument that has an inherent structure that can emerge - as opposed to one that’s impose-able by the creator, as with Curio). Tinderbox is more about logic, Curio about imagination, it seems to me.

I didn’t find it hard to learn at all, perhaps because it’s very WYSIWYG, and the use of elements such as tables and mind maps is familiar from other standalone applications — although as with all programmes it has the odd quirk. Of course, by many standards Curio is expensive, especially if you buy a tablet as well.


this looks interesting :confused: $40.

This is the first time I hear about Curio. I got Curio-us :wink: and visted the product’s website at

Curio looks like a very interesting tool and it got me wondering about my current set of tools. Actually I’m just starting to use them, but my conclusion was to stick to DevonThink Pro for research and Scrivener for writing. But Curio Pro have many of the features I need. I like its interface and the trak management possibilities. So, I’m curious to hear what others think about these tools. How worthwhile would it be for research and writing to add Curio to my current set of tools? Can Curio even take the place of DT Pro and Scrivener? Any thoughts?

Thanks again!


Here’s a review by Steve Zeoli:

No, not at all, in my view. Curio is for capturing and moulding initial ideas, DT Pro for collecting, storing and retrieving research, and Scrivener is for planning, composing and revising documents. They can each have a role in the creation of a long project, but their purposes are all very different, and so are the applications themselves, despite one or two superficial overlaps.

I certainly wouldn’t want to try to use Curio or DT Pro in Scrivener’s role; Scrivener has numerous tools for writing that the others lack.

Thanks for the feedback Hugh. :smiley: Great review on Curio by the way.