Recently I signed a contract for my third book with Chicago Review Press--unless you count the second edition that just came out of my book A KID'S GUIDE TO AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY. My new book, too, will focus on African American History.
I also belong to a listserve of nonfiction writers for kids. One of the topics it had focused on a week ago was the importance of thorough notetaking. Many writers, it seems, type notes directly to their computer. They explained that it gives them easy access to search and find keywords in their notes as well as provides thorough footnotes on their own personal manuscript. If an editor calls to fact check, they can find their research sources quickly and easily.
Since I've been doing research the old-fashioned way--piles of books on first a card table and recently my dining room table, and then sitting in a recliner to read through books and jot down handwritten notes--I feel challenged to utilize today's technology to take more efficient and better notes.
As we head into the new year, I've been preparing mentally to start my new book project. First I'll print out monthly calendars and determine how much material I have to write each month in order to meet my deadline with ample time to tie up any loose ends. I'll make weekly and monthly goals to keep me on track. Secondly, I've been wrestling with how to best set up a research station to take notes directly onto a computer. I don't want to tie up my dining room table with all that clutter for an entire year!
When our oldest son moved out this past year, he left behind a computer desk, comfy computer chair, and a laptop. What luxury! Up to this point, I have hardly opened the laptop and had been using his computer desk as a sewing station since I also enjoy quilting. But not now! I have decided to set this up as a research station for my new book project. I plan to get a book easel or paperweights to keep my book open that I'm using as research. It's important to have a place for each book as I take notes, especially since some of the volumes I plan to use include biographies of several hundred pages or encyclopedia-type books with over 1000 pages each. Too bulky to hold in my hand or on my lap while I type!
I'm in the process of searching out and purchasing key books I'll be using for my main research--both on general American history during the era I'll be studying as well as specific African American history. I usually find these as used books for great prices online. As these books come in, I'll assign each one a simple alphabet code so that I can just type that code and page number next to each fact I type into my laptop. This will help me know where I found each fact. And as I read through various books, I'll jot down several sources for each fact I find. When a certain fact has at least 3 sources listed next to it, I'll know I can use it in my book manuscript, as long as I'm sure it is a verified fact and not just rumor. (The reliability of my sources helps me determine this.)
So off I go to set up my research station today!
When students are assigned a topic to write about, encourage them to first read about their topic in an encyclopedia. Also, have them look up books on their topic during their trip to the school library. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, by reading this material BEFORE they sit down to write, they will feel more confident as a writer. If the entire classroom is writing about the same topic, set up a simple research station in a corner of the classroom. Have a basket of notepaper and pencils for jotting down notes. Keep encyclopedias and a dictionary handy. Provide a stack of topic-related books for students to dig through. Invite students to visit the research station before they sit down to write their assignment.