Monday, February 10, 2020

There's Nothing Like Being There: Doing Research in the Field

By Mary Kay Carson

As an author of mostly middle-grade nonfiction, my days are spent doing research. The actual writing only happens after months (or years) of background reading, digging up facts, interviewing experts, poring over documents and papers, and more reading. The manuscript is the icing on the cake, the tip of the iceberg, or some other metaphor that means “you’ve no idea how much work went into this.”
          

Netting bats
Those who write nonfiction are often history buffs, science nerds, and news junkies. The job requires an endless fascination for obscure details and an obsessive drive to puzzle out the inner workings of something or other. Why else would you stick with a topic through months (or years) of research? Some get a thrill exploring primary sources—old diaries, letters, historical records, and first person accounts of long-ago happenings. Others revel in the “Did you know…” uncovering of a forgotten maverick, misunderstood event, or new discovery.

What motivates me during book research is the chance for unique, salient experiences. Like what? Staying up all night in a Texas pecan grove netting and banding bats. Being in the audience when the first images ever of Pluto’s surface are revealed. Getting a geyser tour from Park Service geologists at Yellowstone National Park. Chasing down a tornado in western Kansas with a van full of meteorology students. Scratching the head of the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in a century. All were made possible by being in the field while doing book research.



The opportunity for once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I knew I’d get to share with young readers is why I’ve written six titles in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series. Because while everything I’ve described can be seen on PBS or YouTube, it’s not the same as being there. Especially when you’re going to write about it. Everyone tries to heed the “include all five senses in your writing” dictum. But it’s difficult to know what the Sonoran Desert smells like (cooking herbs, tar, and soap) from a TV show. And my description of what salamander skin feels like or how Old Faithful sounds at night will differ from yours. Perception is reality, after all. 🙂

Knowing I’m going to recount my experience for readers sharpens my senses. I want to make sure I remember, so I take notes—not just about what’s going on but what it’s like to be there. I think of that third grader in a gymnasium during a school visit whose eyes light up when I mention storm chasing. What was it like? Weren’t you scared?


I take written notes and use a digital voice recorder while in the field with scientists to catch my impressions at the moment. Besides recording interviews, I use the recorder for quick “notes to self” about where I am and what I’m sensing. What’s the setting like, what do I hear, smell, feel?

These notes and recordings become invaluable months (or years) later when I’m drafting the manuscript. Rereading or listening to them transports me back, helps me relive being there, and returns me to the scene I want to recount for readers. I often write in a narrative style that features scenes punctuated by sections of information peppered with quotes. Featuring you-are-there scenes engages readers and makes them want to know more. They’re already invested in the information they’re about to receive. Instead of an info dump, the text is food for hungry minds!



Unfettered time with scientists and other experts is another terrific benefit of tagging along with researchers in the field. Interviews via telephone, Skype, or at an office are formal affairs. The interviewee has set aside (likely limited) time to answer your questions. The conversation will probably be productive, informative, and cordial. With luck it might be insightful, lively, and awe-inspiring. But it takes time to get to know a person, to understand how she or he views the world, and to discover what motivates him or her.

 
Tracking a storm

Field work involves lots of down time: long drives across tornado alley, waiting for darkness outside bat caves, hiking to a saguaro grove to measure growth. The casual conversations while unloading and setting up equipment, over meals on the road, or while hiking are when I really get to know people. It’s when I find out the reason a planetary scientist gave up on becoming an astronaut, why an evolutionary ecologist has always loved amphibians, how a meteorologist overcame being told she wasn’t good enough, and what an endangered species expert most worries about.

All this juicy stuff adds flavor to a manuscript. It also makes the experts you’re quoting into three-dimensional people that young readers relate to. (She caught frogs when she was a kid! I like to catch frogs!) It shows kids, and grownups, that what we know about the world aren’t just Google-able facts. They’re discoveries, insights, and findings made over time by hard-working, dedicated, individual human beings.


And that’s worth being there for. Even if it takes months (or years).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Kay Carson has been writing for kids since landing a job at Scholastic’s SuperScience magazine nearly three decades ago. She’s the author of more than fifty nonfiction books for young people about nature, inventors, wildlife, history, space, and more. Her book Alexander Graham Bell for Kids received a 2019 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize. She’s written six titles in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series, including 2019’s The Tornado Scientist. Carson also does author visits to schools and is a contributing member of STEM Tuesday and Hands-On Books. Learn more at: www.marykaycarson.com.


ABOUT THE PRIZE

Mary Kay Carson will be awarding a signed copy of INSIDE BIOSPHERE 2: Earth Science Under Glass.



Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.    

161 comments:

  1. Thank you, Mary Kay, for highlighting research in the field! It's a HUGE draw for me too, bringing me to a vanished village in the Czech countryside, to a bustling soup kitchen in central DC, to a floating soccer field in Thailand. My manuscripts aren't all there...yet, but the memories sure are. And next time, I'll use my phone to record my impressions along the way!

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  2. What interesting, exciting experiences you’ve had. I’m going to check out your books! Thanks for sharing.
    Gail Hartman

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  3. Your research experiences sound fascinating! I appreciate that you are thinking about what details will captivate children. Thanks.

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  4. Thank you Mary Kay. The experiences you have had as you researched your books were amazing. Thank you for sharing your hard work and dedication to your craft.

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  5. Besides showing us a handful of titles that I must now read, Mary Kay, you've given us some amazing advice and insights into how you work. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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  6. What a delightful article that I related to very well as a history geek. My favorite line is: "The manuscript is the icing on the cake, the tip of the iceberg, or some other metaphor that means “you’ve no idea how much work went into this.” She got that and all the excitement of the hunt right.

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  7. Loved this post! I was struck by the truth that doing this kind of in-depth research creates a three-dimensional view of scientists and how science is done, and that it would be impossible without being there. Mary Kay, thank you so much for sharing your process.

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  8. Fascinating, Mary Kay! I applaud you for getting a full, real-life experience and writing about that. I just requested several of your books from my library and I'm excited to check them out.

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  9. Hunting the experiences you want to write about sounds exciting, and it makes NF research very appealing. How did you get started doing this, Mary Kay? It seems this type of research could be costly for a writer just starting out.

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    1. I thought about this too Robin. It does represent a significant investment of funds for travel and research. Perhaps she got an advance on her book deal by selling a detailed proposal. Would be fun to find out!

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    2. All the Scientists in the Field (SITF) books I've written were sold as proposals--not finished manuscripts. So, yes, I got an advance before writing. The first book, Emi and the Rhino Scientist, was about a researcher at my local zoo so didn't require travel, just time. The other books came with a travel stipend, which didn't cover all the travel, but aided in it. Hope that helps!

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  10. Mary Kay, love your Scientist in the Field books! so glad you are here for the Fest. Something I need to remember the i write NF, "The actual writing only happens after months (or years) of background reading, digging up facts, interviewing experts, poring over documents and papers, and more reading." I want it to be faster. LOL

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  11. Thank you for the inside look at field work.

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  12. Back to the library to request these-I don't think I've seen this series and it looks great! Lots of research makes for meaty writing material. Thanks!

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  13. Fascinating peek behind the scenes of the best non-fiction research!

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  14. Mary Kay had me at "You've no idea how much work went into this." I have to some degree followed the premise of "being there" for several of my published articles. But, I need to do more. Mary Kay Carson is my mentor.
    Melanie

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  15. This is great! Notetaking is such a crucial part of research, but it doesn't get much (if any) time in elementary school curriculum in my experience. If I were still teaching, I'd share this post with my students. Thanks for sharing your methods.

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  16. Wow -- such fabulous in the field examples. Feels like being there. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Scientists in the Field is such an outstanding series--you make kids feel like they're tagging alongside you!

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  18. A great post. I really got the 'feel' of being there! Thanks for sharing

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  19. what an amazing career you have had! I appreciate the value of immersing yourself in a subject fully by participating in it so completely--there is no substitute for really experiences!

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  20. This was great! One of the key insights for me in this post was the benefits of unfettered time with the experts. What a difference that makes, and I hadn't thought about that.

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  21. I don't know. I found this post really disheartening. It's not realistic for many of us to have the resources or time away from our families to travel and spend time doing field work. For those that have, that's great.
    It isn't that I wouldn't love to meet my sources in person, but I will always have to settle for a skype call or emails. I have to be happy with youtube and google street view to get a feel for a place I've never been and likely will never get to.
    It's great that Mary Kay has had all of these amazing experiences, and I don't begrudge her that. But to be told there's nothing like being there and having hours immersed in the subject to write about them are things I already know. I didn't need the reminder that no matter how in depth I get with my sources, it will never be as good as having been there.
    I love reading the posts on this blog for inspiration, but this one really had the opposite effect.

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    1. I had the same response. It's really tough balancing my responsibilities with my need/interest in research. It's also difficult to afford those activities. I agree with you - I LOVED reading about the effort she puts into her work. I think it's admirable. But I do wish there was a recognition that not everyone can do this. Maybe a slightly different spin, like "*if you can*, make the effort to get in the field. And if you can't, your next best options are to..." Believe me, I want to do all the things she describes. I want to travel all over and immerse myself in my research. But that's not possible for every writer. So how else can we make our writing sing, smell, soar, when we can't get there in person?

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    3. I'm sorry that the post disheartened you, Viv and Elizabeth. Perhaps I should have included some other options, though in truth I didn't really envision the post as a complete lesson--just my own best experiences. I've made a living as a freelance writer and author for 25 years so am painfully aware of the constraints of time, travel, and money. (Not to mention buying one's own health insurance!) All the Scientists in the Field (SITF) books I've written were sold as proposals--not finished manuscripts. That means I was paid an advance before writing. The first book, Emi and the Rhino Scientist, was about a researcher at my local zoo so didn't require travel, just time. Meeting with local experts, tagging along with local experts is a more affordable and less time consuming way to go, IF being in the field is something you'd like to do. (Not everyone does--and that's OK.) The other SITF books came with a travel stipend, which didn't cover all the travel, but aided in it. When a proposal doesn't sell, I move onto something else. I can't afford to do tons of work on spec. And please know that the post is about one (glorified!) aspect of one person's writing career. I do lots of other writing just through email/skype/online research. Best of luck!

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    4. As an author who likes to do the same kind of research as Mary Kay, I thought I'd jump in here and share my story. Maybe this will show a possible path for you. I know you can’t follow my path exactly, but try to think about aspects of my story that might work for you.
      I started small because I had a young family and travel for research was not possible. I was also unknown, so no-one was going to fund me traveling around to write books. I wrote my first non-fiction picture book manuscript by doing my own field research over the course of three springs. I was writing about a phenomenon that happens in the woods behind my house every March, so I went out and made observations. I captured the sights and sounds of what was happening. Then I compared my own research with what experts on the subject say. I later found an expert to vet my manuscript. That manuscript still has not sold (hence my vagueness… I’m hoping it will) BUT it landed me my first agent. That agent was the next step in my journey to publication.
      I went on to write several manuscripts about things I could observe in my own area before I sold my first book, Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN. ALVIN’s home base, Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), is about 45 minutes from my house so I was able to go there as part of my research. Over time, I built a relationship with people at WHOI. I learned more. I found another subject I wanted to write about that is adjacent to ALVIN. Other people at WHOI served as experts for aspects of that manuscript. That not-yet-announced manuscript will be my second book. (I’m sorry to be vague. I can’t share details, yet).
      Because I am so interested in all things WHOI, I follow all of their social media channels and I learned about this new gigantic research project they are working on about the Ocean Twilight Zone (OTZ). I reached out to my contacts at WHOI. They put me in touch with the OTZ people who were excited about the possibility of me writing a book for kids about their research. I began developing a relationship with that team last spring. We’ve had many meetings, phone calls, emails, etc. and many bumps along the way. But now, WHOI has confirmed that I will be going out on a research expedition with them in May. I will play two roles on that cruise. I will be researching for my proposed book (My proposal is out on submission, not sold, yet) AND I will help with their educational outreach by posting daily dispatches for teachers/students and answering questions emailed in by teachers and students.
      It’s been a long road for me. I’ve been at this since 2007. It has not been easy, but I found a way that worked for me. So I encourage you to consider: What sparks your curiosity right in your own town or state? Chase that. Research that. And then see where your path will take you.
      I never imagined I’d be able to go out on a research expedition with WHOI, yet here I am. It took a lot of time, patience, and perseverance. My kids are teenagers now, so I can. If your kids are little right now, give yourself a break. Parenting is hard work. Do what you can. Remember that non-fiction manuscript I wrote about a local phenomenon? I took my kids with me when I started it. I pulled my daughter in a wagon. My notes often included their responses to what we were experiencing. Once my youngest entered preschool, then I went into the woods without kids so I could focus more intentionally. Maybe start small with something like that.

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    5. Thanks to you both for acknowledging my reaction and not ignoring it! I appreciate it. I also appreciate your suggestions on how to balance what we can do with what we want to do. It's a good reminder.

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  22. I’m one of those people who loves the “Did you know....?!” aspect of writing non-fiction, I also love going down rabbit holes. Thanks for the insight into your process. (PS, I laughed out loud at the you-have-know-how-much-work-went-into-this line.)

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  23. I really appreciate that you celebrate the process of researching. It is such a delight to talk with people who know so much, and to catch their enthusiasm!

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  24. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Kay at a book festival but since we didn't get to chat much, this was a good substitute in learning more about her research and writing!

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    1. Congrats on all the accolades for Queen of Physics!!

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    2. I just read Queen of Physics and fell in love with your writing. The page turns were masterful! Congratulations on a fantastic biography!

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  25. 'Those who write nonfiction are often history buffs, science nerds, and news junkies.' ~ That's me. A history buff and news junkie.

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  26. Wow, what an experience to tag along!

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  27. Being out in the field sounds like an exciting and fascinating way to make facts real and relatable. Thanks, Mary Kay, for sharing your process when writing non-fiction.

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  28. Being out in the field sure does sound exciting. I love the part about the down time and how even in that time were you able to find out interesting things that added to your manuscript. Thank you so much for the great post.

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  29. I love the Scientists in the Field series. For me, the takeaway here is more about being able to capture and convey the emotional response and sensory details of an experience. That probably is best done in person, but for those who cannot get to the "field" (finances, responsibilities, historical topics), we have to get that information other ways. Thankfully, lots of people share their experiences in diaries and online. :)

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  30. I'm amazed at all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences you've had thanks to your field research. And your tips for recording the sensory details of those experiences are wonderful. Thank you!

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  31. It's fascinating to hear about your experiences with field research. Thank you for sharing! -Sara Ackerman

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  32. Thank you for sharing your field research experiences!

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  33. I always wonder if you're already under contract when you make field trips. Is your research funded, paid for in an advance? Or are you just paying on the front end, hoping you'll sell it later? In theory, field trips look amazing! But the practical side of me sees mostly dollars (the ones coming out of my wallet)!

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    1. All the Scientists in the Field (SITF) books I've written were sold as proposals--not finished manuscripts. That means I was paid an advance before writing. The first book, Emi and the Rhino Scientist, was about a researcher at my local zoo so didn't require travel, just time. The other SITF books came with a travel stipend, which didn't cover all the travel, but aided in it. Hope that helps!

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    2. So helpful, Mary Kay, thanks! I tend to consider projects nearby or in spots I visit anyway but it's good to know that you get a stipend.

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  34. Just—WOW! What a dream to have such experiences and literally inhale the atmosphere. Thanks for sharing those experiences!

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  35. Working on a non-fiction took me to some amazing places. You're right. The feel of the location is something you have to experience.

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  36. What a blast! Sounds like fun.
    In my limited experience, scientists are absolutely great to talk to, and great at explaining their work.

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  37. There is nothing better than connecting with experts in the field watching and participating in their work. Talk about feeling the abundance of this world! You've nailed it.

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  38. Love the comment about taking notes in the field--What is the setting like, what do I hear, smell, feel?

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  39. You've had such extraordinary experiences in the pursuit of facts! I love how you translate them for kids!

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  40. Thanks for sharing your insights. First-hand knowledge is golden!

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  41. Your writing has opened up new worlds for you. How fantastic!

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  42. Thank you for sharing ALL the behind the book work❤️

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  43. Such a great reminder about recording experiences for later use. And nothing really replaces first hand experience. I love all that you've done in the course of your research!

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  44. I love the idea of noting your thoughts, feelings, etc at each discovery.

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  45. Incorporating my observations via all my senses is a great way to flesh out my manuscript and hook readers. Great advice! And thanks for the reminder just how important primary sources are, as well as how useful it can be to spend one-on-one time with them!

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  46. Mary Kay what an awesome job being out in the field! I love that you use the recorder for quick “notes to self”.

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  47. Thanks Mary! Great idea for the recorder to catch sensory details while in the field. Always too much going on.

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  48. Great Post, Mary Kay. Even if we can't get out in the field, we should be connecting with scientists, rangers, etc. who are in the field. One thing a news editor told me ages ago regarding interviews: ask what they see outside their window, what the air smells like, what they hear. (But yeah, getting there in person allows you to experience those environments and find your own language to use.)

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  49. "Those who write nonfiction are often history buffs, science nerds, and news junkies." This is it for me. I love history, science, and news. Mary, thank you for the insight into your journey as a nonfiction writer.

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  50. I am so jealous of all of your adventures. It makes me want to write a book about science (even though I have no expertise) just so I can go on one of those trips.

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  51. Yes, there is a different feeling when you experience something "in person". You hear, smell, see, touch, and yup, sometimes even taste things that aren't on the films. However, sometimes we can't be "there", but we can write anyway. Thanks for sharing your exciting experiences.

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  52. Wow! What great experience and such wonderful advice. Thank you for this great article and I loved the point about recording for later use.

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  53. Living the dream! Though I wanted to wave my hand madly (saying, Me, Me!)when I read "Some get a thrill exploring primary sources," boots on the ground research sounds truly amazing.

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  54. So much respect for you (and others in this field). Research drives the writing and being there in the field gives you a unique perspective that YouTube and Google simply can’t. Bravo on your wonderful career!

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  55. Mary Kay, you make your once-in-a-lifetime experiences in research sound so exciting. No wonder you what you do so well!

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  56. So exciting to be able to work alongside scientists and see everything first hand. Thanks for the tip about using a digital recorder.

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  57. Sounds like you have a good time researching - although I can see that it is hard work and dedication that drives your success!

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  58. It’s good to be reminded that a lot of the writing work is done when one is not actually writing. I think investment in research and just thinking in your head about your topic pays off when you finally sit down to write. Thank you!

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  59. I love the idea of actually being there to do research. Wow! Thanks for sharing.

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  60. Field Research seems fascinating and useful when writing the manuscript. Thanks for your post.

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  61. What amazing experiences you've had! Thank you for sharing.

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  62. Amazing! Thank you for sharing the importance of field research! And thank you for reminding us to observe and record our sensory experiences while in the field!

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  63. The manuscript is the icing on the cake, the tip of the iceberg, or some other metaphor that means “you’ve no idea how much work went into this.” My favorite line in this post - HAH! Thank you for sharing the amazing field research you do.

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  64. I love the idea of featuring you-are-there scenes in a manuscript. Thank you! Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  65. Great post, Mary! Thank you for giving us a behind the scene peek at doing field work. I agree that “Those who write nonfiction are often history buffs, science nerds, and news junkies”…yup, that’s me! I would have loved to have been one of the original Biosphere members. I loved it when you said, “Instead of an info dump, the text is food for hungry minds!”

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  66. So sorry if I comment multiple times...I'm having internet issues today. But I wanted to make sure to thank you for this. Your enthusiasm is evident and inspirational! I'm now going to be looking at my WIP to see where I can plan a road trip! Thank you!

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  67. These days it can be difficult to emphasize the extreme importance of primary resources when information seems to be readily available on the internet. Thank you for showing how it works and letting us follow you into the field!

    So excited that I figured out how to comment on Blogger again. Yay!

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  68. This was inspiring! I'm going to figure out some field studies that are within my reach and remember to smell the smells!

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  69. I'm a research junkie, so I could relate to your post. I loved your reminder to involve our five senses when doing research to engage our readers and truly involve them in a "you are there" experience. Thank you - Priscilla

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  70. My favorite line: "The job requires an endless fascination for obscure details and an obsessive drive to puzzle out the inner workings of something or other." Thanks for a fascinating post!

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  71. It would be great if a 'smellrecorder' existed. Such great ideas, Mary. I agree that to record feelings and the five senses while doing research is essential as it's so easy to forget things.

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  72. I appreciated the line: Writing NF requires an endless fascination for obscure detail and an obsessive drive to puzzle out the inner workings of something or other." Very much like being a sleuth. Thanks for sharing your process.

    Celia Viramontes

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  73. Taking a digital voice recorder is such a great idea. You often forget to include important details or you cannot capture the emotions in written notes. Thanks for the suggestion.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  74. Great tips about field work!

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  75. Thanks, Mary! Great tips re: the digital recorder to capture sensory details for later.

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  76. Thanks for the helpful perspective!

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  77. Field work and research work are the best parts of writing. Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips.

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  78. Thanks for sharing the insights you gleaned from your experiences of during research in the field. (I think you are probably a bit braver than I! Not sure I would chase those storms.) I also appreciated the tips on how to transfer what you learned from the research onto the written page. Writing nonfiction can certainly lead us into places we never dreamed we would go. Lots of info for us to consider.

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  79. Mary Kay, what amazing experiences you've had doing field research! I'm especially intrigued to read your book on the biosphere because my family just visited it when we were staying with my parents in AZ over the holidays. It must have been amazing to get a close-up perspective while researching your book!

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  80. This is fascinating. So far, my research has been with books and interviews. I'd love to get in there and do some field work!

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  81. I love the idea of recording snippets while in the field - you'd get sounds, people's voices, etc., that would help take you back once you're sitting inside writing something. And so much faster to record by speaking into a device than to write the notes as I've tended to do. Great idea - thanks!

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  82. You are blessed to be able to travel to do your hands-on research and experiences.

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  83. I had similar feelings that several other people did. I would be wonderful to be able to travel to far away sites and be there with the experts but money and other obligations make that nearly impossible for most of us. I did enjoy reading about your experiences and if I do get to interview someone live, I'll remember to take notes and record the sessions.

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  84. Marvelous tips on vivid writing by getting the sensory details down in notes for future writing.

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  85. What a great suggestion to bring a recorder to the field, not just to capture what the experts say, but your own thoughts throughout the experience. Thank you!

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  86. I'm another fan of the digital recorder. When you listen back, you find that what you think you heard often turns out to NOT be what the person actually said!

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  87. Wow, I like the way you were able to incorporate the senses after first hand experiences.

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  88. Thanks for the inside look into great researching techniques. The recording step is invaluable for sensory details, accuracy, and being "in the moment".

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  89. Writers are as fascinating as their subjects. I can tell how much you love your job! Write on!

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  90. You've had some amazing experiences which is so wonderful for your readers. Thank you for your insight into research.

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  91. This is a fascinating and inspiring post. I love your enthusiasm and curiosity. What a great idea to use a voice recorder for "quick notes to self." I need to remember that next time I'm in the field.

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  92. Fascinating, just fascinating!
    Thank you for writing so vividly, sharing and using all your senses making us feel as though we are there, and or, can do this too!

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  93. Do you need someone to carry your suitcase? Sign me up! Thanks for this great post about field research, Mary Kay. I'm feeling inspired to get out there and do some of my own. I love your description of how the Sonoran desert smells. Those first-person details make a manuscript come to life!

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  94. I love how you started with a phenomena in your own backyard. I wonder how many people have seen the same thing and not thought to investigate. It shows how anything can become a book if we work at it and find the right angle to explore with.

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  95. OMG, Mary Kay, your passion for discovery bursts from the page. How lucky children are to have your books. Thank you.

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  96. Thanks, Mary Kay for sharing your experiences and process. Being there is golden!

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  97. I love this post, Mary Kay. I feel the same way!

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  98. Mary Kay's experiences make me green with envy. My experiences with onsite research really emphasize what she describes. I was able to visit the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center west of Honolulu a number of years ago for a book. I would never have known that the scientist wore two beepers...just in case one failed because the person on duty has to respond quickly. I also met the police officer on duty in Hilo when the 1946 tsunami hit the coast of the Big Island. Treasured experiences.

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  99. Mary Kay, your insight is right on! There's nothing better than getting the feel and full sense of being in your story. I love my reenactment activities. A cannon blast that rocks not only your hearing and sight but also the full sudden sensation of pressure on every inch of your skin can completely change how you write about a 10-second piece of history. Thanks for your encouragement to continue to feel and sense and inform our content with passion.

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  100. You've been on some terrific adventures! I am married to a bat biologist, so I've been lucky enough to tag along with him on numerous occasions (bats are so cute up close!) and assist in field work from time to time (I've used night vision goggles to count bats as they emerged from a cave), but I never really considered going along for field work with other scientists. Now I definitely will!

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  101. I enjoyed reading about your adventures in research and seeing the covers of the resulting books. My research, due to limited budget and work-for-hire projects has been mostly limited to phone interviews, online and print resources.

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  102. Very exciting to read about the great and the infuriating parts of doing field work. I can imagine that you can get so caught up in the research that actually getting down to writing the book is, well, kind of anticlimactic. I spent a season observing a bird I was writing about. I couldn't wait to get up in the morning and make my rounds to observe the bird's behavior and habitat. I mucked around in a cattail marsh searching for nests and getting dive bombed by birds. I observed LOTS of other interesting natural events in the process; taking notes for future topics to explore. It was all very wonderful. Nobody was paying me or waiting for my book. I did it because I wanted to write from first hand experience and because I was curious to find out as much as I could before I wrote the book. I've written several versions of the book, and I'm still collecting rejection letters, but I have to say it was all worth it! I learned so much. I envy and admire any writer who actually gets paid to go out and do field work. It inspires me to keep writing.

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  103. Great post Mary Kay! Your books really make the reader feel like they are there with you. Here's a toast to history buffs, science nerds, and news junkies. Obsessed!

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  104. Your thoughts and encouragement to discover, explore, and dig further to find the juicy stuff is great.

    Thank you, Mary Kay, for so much valuable information.

    Suzy Leopold

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  105. I'd like to be there when you are planning your vacations for the year! Your amazing adventures come through in the flavor of your books.

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  106. Thank you. Great information ❤️

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  107. I liked how you related your field research information not only to what you learned about your intended subject/topic, but to what you learned about the people who helped you along the way and that would become part of the fabric of the story. Thanks for sharing.

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  108. Wow, yes, real experiences give a writer so much more to work with. Beings somewhere and doing something are very different than anything else. I may never have experiences quite like yours, but I do try to use that same principle on a smaller scale.

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  109. We are lucky to have technology, small recorders and our phones, to help capture the details of research. Thanks for all your insight.

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  110. You told me just what I need to say to my critique partner (and listen to myself). In her case, it's why her story works so well! Thanks!

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  111. Thank you so much for this post, Mary Kay! I have tremendous respect for the out-in-the-field research you participate in. And the time this takes. I appreciated that you mentioned the thrill of engaging in the senses on sight. Thank you!

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  112. Loved reading about your extensive research and how it frames your manuscripts--thank you!

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  113. I love field research whenever possible. Now, if I could just get rid of my day job, that would free me up to do more work "on location."

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  114. Kudos, Mary Kay, for providing today's readers with such powerful field-research-based resources for learning about our fascinating natural world!

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  115. Thanks Mary Kay. Your field work sounds amazing!

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  116. Wish I could travel more to do more field work....some day!

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  117. Oh! I have to remember my digital recorder! I have for sit down interviews but wish I could’ve had it with me at times to record my thoughts. Have had some great ideas, notes, etc that never made it to the notebook... and now they’re gone. Thanks for the reminder Mary Kay!

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  118. You've just made NF writing asound like the most exciting job in the world. I'm in!

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  119. How amazing to get such intimate looks at the subjects of your books! Thank you for sharing.

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  120. I love hearing about your field experience. Some of the best experiences have happened in the field and has helped me build relationships and makes friends that otherwise would not have happened.

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  121. Nice field work tips -- and a nice reminder how some of my best relationships and experiences happened as surprises in my field work.

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  122. Thanks for this post--and the interesting conversation it has spurred in these comments. As a science writer, I've only gotten out in the field for a couple of stories but would love to do more. (I write mostly about biomedical research these days.)

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  123. The idea of a voice recorder is a great one. I am thinking of getting one myself. A super body of work I look forward to checking out.

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  124. Thanks for sharing your research experiences. I love how you got to know scientists and others in deeper way and how you are so meticulous in your approach, incorporating all sights, smells, sounds etc. that you encounter. Also, I will have to try using a digital recorder in addition to taking regular notes so thanks for that practical tip as well!

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  125. The idea of going into the field for research is fascinating. Your hard work inspires us all!

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  126. The text is food for hungry minds.That will stick with me. Thank you.

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  127. Staying up all night in a Texas pecan grove netting and banding bats...Scratching the head of the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in a century-- what great experiences!

    Thanks for sharing some of the awesome things one might get to experience while doing research. But thank you also for detailing how hard it is to research and write NF.

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  128. Great post, Mary Kay! Thanks for sharing your exciting research. The info about spending time with your characters and getting to know them is a great help, but in reality, it's often difficult.

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  129. NF writer as adventurer and thrill-seeker. Love it!

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  130. I had no idea until today that there was a "Scientists in the Field" series--how cool! I will definitely look them up. And your travels have whetted my appetite for adventures of my own. If only my kidlit magazine editor would pay for some "on the scene" reporting, LOL!

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  131. Ooohhhh! A bonus of writing NF! Getting out into the field. I’ve thought about asking paleontologist who visit our school each year what it would take to be able to join them at their dig site in the US. Maybe I should and maybe it’ll spark an idea. But, if not, at least the memories will always be there!

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  132. I appreciate your time and dedication to making your writing real for children, Mary Kay. Lots of work, but lots of memories, too!

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  133. Great post, Mary Kay! I enjoy the SITF books and the in-depth research that goes into them. I especially appreciate the way the books personalize scientists and show what their daily lives are like. Thanks!

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  134. Thank you Mary Kay. That was a great post.

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  135. Your second paragraph about those who write NF are often...was a most amusing description as was showing us how much research you do delve into. Maria Johnson

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  136. I'm used to paper/pencil recording when I do research. Recording it makes so much sense. Thanks for a new tool in my toolkit!

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  137. Thanks, Mary Kay Carlson for sharing the importance of researching deeply in many ways. You're someone who's never bored with your findings and quest for new knowledge.

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  138. Yes. There is something about the aura of a place that frees your imagination to explore how your subject might have felt at the same location even if it were years before.

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  139. This is so inspiring!! I think I'm going to ask to go on a visit for a manuscript I'm working on. Super exciting!!

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  140. I love what you say about spending the time to get familiar with a topic! I just read Tarantula Scientist with my kids, so now that I know you wrote a couple books in that series, I'll have to check them out!

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  141. This was a very informative post. Thank you for sharing the advantages and strategies of doing field research.

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  142. Love these examples! Thanks for sharing your insights.

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  143. Thank you so much!

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  144. Mary Kay, what an honor to read your tips and get to know you as an author behind the Scientists in the Field series--I recommend these to kids all the time as a Librarian! Your post reminded me why I love nonfiction so much--I come from a big National Parks camping family, with lots of neat history as well--D-day survivor,shipbuilder. I always wanted to know more about stuff. And, even though I haven't been in the field since a kid, it was encouraging to know there's still time, and the importance of it. You spoke to me when you wrote "It also makes the experts you’re quoting into three-dimensional people that young readers relate to." Thanks so much...I'll be looking for, and hoping to make those opportunities in the field one day.

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  145. Wonderful examples. Thank you!

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  146. Wow! You've had such wonderful experiences. I want to read all of your books now! I loved these lines: "It shows kids, and grownups, that what we know about the world aren’t just Google-able facts. They’re discoveries, insights, and findings made over time by hard-working, dedicated, individual human beings."

    I also really appreciated the discussion in the comments about how it is not always feasible to go into the field.

    Thank you!

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