Sooner or later, every writer needs to do research of some
sort, from simple fact checking to more complex investigations of settings or
events. But how to get the best results? Sometimes, a quick browse on the
Internet will supply the answer, but if your research requirements are more
complicated, how do you set about finding the information you need?
be a dangerous business: not all sources are reliable and it can be difficult to
be certain that you’ve found an accurate answer. How can you be certain that
you’ve done the best job you can? Ann Hoffmann’s Research for Writers, now
in its 6th edition, sets out to help the novice researcher with the typical
problems that arise, and to introduce the basic tools of the research trade.
Hoffmann believes that research is an individual, creative
and selective process, more so once you step beyond the basics of factual
checking. For a novelist, discovering a fact and then checking it can lead to a
new discovery that reshapes their novel entirely, while an academic researcher
may be looking for facts to confirm or deny a long-held belief. But all
researchers should go about their business in an organised and methodical
fashion, be they working in the library or else assembling materials at home,
and Hoffmann is old-fashioned enough to believe in making extensive preparations
before embarking on research: her lists cover everything, from what you might
need while working in the library to the best kinds of filing system. Which may
seem to some, probably those who are already well organized, to be stating the
obvious but is nevertheless valuable information for those who have never
embarked on sustained research before and are really not quite sure where to
begin. As indeed is the advice on methods of research, from note-taking to basic
Where this book really begins to come into its own is with
the dazzling survey of basic sources of information. To simply talk about ‘the
library’ is to be totally unaware of the many resources available, even
through your local branch library. Beyond that, however, are the many specialist
libraries which also grant access to the bona fide researcher, and the startling
number of specialist publications which help researchers to trace information.
For those researchers who have a clearer idea of what they need, be they
novelists, genealogists or historians, individual chapters cover the available
resources in even greater depth. Hoffmann supplies lists of books and lists of
useful addresses, enough to satisfy even the most discerning researcher.
Samuel Johnson observed that: ‘Knowledge is of two kinds.
We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.’
This book is surely an excellent starting point for anyone needing to carry out
research and at a loss to know where to begin.
Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
Review of 7th edition
This excellent handbook has now gone into its seventh edition. All the
contents have been brought up to date and there is also a new chapter on
making best use of the Internet. This is based on the author’s
assumption that since the last edition in 1999 most readers will have got
themselves onto the Internet. Ann Hoffman still feels that ‘you are bound
to continue to do the bulk of your research in the library and the archive
centre’, but acknowledges the importance and usefulness of web-based
The Internet section includes the basics of getting online, emphasises
the importance of keeping careful records when using the Internet, and
shows how researching online has made a great difference to how writers can
carry out their research.
The author’s main focus is still on getting readers ‘to treat this
book as a working tool, to annotate it profusely, and to update it as their
research requires.’ Her chapters, each with its excellent list of titles
at the end, are as good as ever. Her very thorough approach takes the
reader through: Basic Sources of Information, Factual and Historical
Research, Research for Fiction Writers and Dramatists, Biography and
Autobiography, Family and Local History, Specialist Research, Information
about Foreign Countries and Preparing for the Press.
The seventh edition confirms the supremacy of Research for Writers.
It is an excellent tool for all writers who need to research in any field.
Review of 7th edition by Chris Holifield