What Are the Best Research Methods for Writers?

Writing takes research and digging into details, but what are the best methods? 

The Writers Guild of America is my go-to source for all things professional screenwriting. That's where all the major players shell out advice that helps newbies do things better. 

That doesn't just go for writing, but also research. You know, the thing you do to make your work feel authentic. 

Recently, screenwriters Andrew Lanham (Just Mercy, The Kid) and Kevin Willmott (Da 5 Bloods, BlacKkKlansman) dropped past the WGA YouTube channel to give some advice.  They shared how they gather information, how their research informs their screenplays, and how they approach writing stories about real people and events.

The whole session was moderated by WGF librarian Lauren O’Connor.

Check out this video from the WGA and let's talk after the jump. 

What are the Best Research Methods for Writers?

One of the best ways to procrastinate writing is to research. There's always a little more detail that can be added to the story, a little more authenticity. So what are some of the best ways to begin your researching process? 

1. Google

You know how to do this. It's the first step many people take when trying to research a generalized topic. So if you wanted to write a TV show about being in a newsroom, the first thing you'd do is Google the topic of "newsrooms behind the scenes" to see how they work. 

You'll find videos and articles that detail life behind the cameras. Then it's time to look into articles and read as much as is available to you.

2. Longform

Longform is the secret website of Hollywood. It's a catalog of articles where you can type in a phrase or keyword and it assembles lots of articles about a certain topic. There may not be many about your idea, but after a general Google, I head to Longform. 

3. The Library

Do you have a library card? It's the most useful tool for any screenwriter. It's not just about scouring books on the subject you want, which was easily the best way to gather info before the new millennia, but it's also about talking to a librarian. They might have tips and ideas and leads on a wide range of different topics—like, a list of fiction about a certain subject, which you can use to see how someone else tackled the story. 

4. The Experts

If you're working to research a particular field, you want to talk to someone who is in that field. But how can you gain access? The first tip I have is to reach out to HR. Send a general email and tell them what you're trying to do. Ask for a shortlist of people you can speak with, and guarantee you only want 20 minutes of their time. 

Here's an item I often screw up, try to speak to a diverse list! There are people of every gender, race, and sexual orientation in most jobs. The experience and stories from them will be different and informative. Speaking to a wide array will give you the best kinds of characters. 

5. Know when to write

You're only looking for what you want to use and stuff that applies. So, I would suggest writing as much as you can and using research to fill in the blanks and add to the polish. As I joked about at the start, research is a great way not to write. At the end of the day, you can't sell the best research, only the best film or TV script. 

So get back to writing and then research on your off-hours. 

Up NextGet our free screenwriting eBook

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1 Comment

Jason, thanks for the pointer to Longform! Totally new to me, but looks amazing.

July 23, 2020 at 11:39AM

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Bryan Howell
Screenwriter, corporate videographer, and indie filmmaker
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