by Kristen Hall-Geisler, collaborative editor
I love research. Like, love it. As both a writer and an editor, the projects that make me happiest are those that require days—nay, weeks!—of following the white rabbit of an idea down the research rabbit hole. I have spent days in that particular wonderland of interviews, old newspaper articles, current blog posts, and stacks of books.
The tricky part is keeping all this stuff straight so when it’s time to write the book or article, or to edit a massive historical novel or scientific tome, I’ve got what I need in a place where I can find it. There’s nothing worse than that “I know I read about that somewhere…” feeling when you can’t find the source material to save your authorial life.
I have hit and missed and tried and errored my way into a system that works for me. Here are some of my best research tools for fiction and nonfiction writers alike:
Pocket: Those few moments on the bus to work or while waiting for your kids after the game are great times to squeeze in some research on your smartphone. But what if you find the perfect long-form piece on your topic just as the kids jump in the backseat? Save it to Pocket, which will hold on to your unread articles (and archive your read ones) until you have time to dig in. You can tag them by project, even. This app works on your phone, your tablet, your desktop—pretty much everywhere except inside your brain.
Feedly: If you’re not a fan of the rabbit hole, save your sanity by bringing the wonderland of the internet to you—but only the slice you need. When you find a website or blog that covers your area of interest, plug its URL into Feedly, a feed reader that will grab all the latest posts all day long. When you’ve got time, you can flick through the feeds all at once or by the categories you create. Read what you need and let the rest go. Or save them in something like Pocket for later.
The Library: Not only are there stacks of paper books on the shelves of your local library, but there are also vast troves of electronic treasure to be found there. You might find archives of every issue of the local newspaper, databases for scholarly journals, books you can borrow and download on your e-reader, and DVDs of obscure documentaries that bolster your thesis. Librarians can often offer digital assistance, too, via chat or email.
Evernote: This is the one app to rule them all. It works everywhere—online, on your phone, with Gmail—everywhere. It is the place to dump (and nicely sort) all the goodies you find on your research sorties. Notebooks, stacks, and tags keep all that stuff orderly and, most importantly, searchable. If you make a note or save an email while using your phone, it will sync with your computer, and vice versa. Whether you’re an obsessive tagger or the kind of person who dumps everything into a bucket, Evernote will help you to not lose all the work you’ve done in tracking down interesting, reputable sources.
There are of course a million more apps and programs that will aid in your research, but these are the four I find myself using daily on every device whether I’m looking up the first electric car to win a race, the correct spellings of Irish revolutionaries’ names, or the latest findings in coelacanth evolution.
Kristen Hall-Geisler’s favorite research subject is electric cars, and she spends copious amounts of time on it. Just do a quick Google search to see her byline in the likes of Popular Science, Mental Floss, the New York Times, and HowStuffWorks. She says her most interesting interview of late was Erwin Urias, who rides motorcycles in the Globe of Death act. Kristen also edits and writes fiction, not to mention nonfiction on various nonelectroautomotive topics. Keep tabs on her adventures at kristenhallgeisler.com.
Currently on Kristen’s nightstand: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas.