By Pat Miller
Doing things the hard way can teach one a lot of unforgettable lessons. It can also waste time, increase frustration, and sap your energy.
This post is going to give you the benefits of the hard way I did research, and the almost magically easy way to do it using an online notetaking program / app. I discovered that a program like OneNote can be a research assistant.
THE HARD WAY
Mistake #!: I had no idea what the focus of my book would
be, so I spent MONTHS and MONTHS gathering every fact I could. I didn’t know if
I would need it, so I saved it. This is the Hoarder Version of research and is
just as ineffective as storing every item and bit of trash that enters your
house. Avoid this by having a carefully chosen focus before you start.
Mistake #2: My research “focus” was “What is every fact, salient or otherwise, about the guy who invented the doughnut?” I collected census records, history on tall ships, maps of sailing routes, emails from maritime experts. I had info on his sister who had six children, four of them tragically lost to yellow fever in a single week. I found pictures of their tiny headstones and researched the yellow fever epidemic. I amassed more than 250 pages of notes and copies before trying to shape it into a nonfiction picture book.
Eventually I found my book’s narrow focus and sifted out the fragments I needed to draft my story. It was accepted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for publication. Now came another unexpected headache. The fact checker asked for back up on several facts in my book. I knew it was somewhere in those 250 pages, but where? What a frenzied search that was.
THE EASY WAY
After surviving the Hoarder Version, I determined “Never again!” For my next manuscript, I used a free note-taking program called OneNote. There are a number of programs/apps that do something similar for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.
Check out The 5 Best Note Taking Apps for 2021 to learn more. It is beyond the scope of the article to tell you how to use them, but tutorials are readily available. I want to share with you how to use your new research assistant.
My remarks pertain to the one I use, OneNote for Windows 10, but there are similarities among the five. No more having files on your phone or computer, notes in a drawer or all over your desk, random thoughts stashed in your brain. Here is how your research life is going to get easier!
1. Be organized. Like you might do traditionally, OneNote can be arranged in binders, each with tabbed sections and pages. What you commit to these notebooks is automatically saved to the cloud and can be used across your devices and shared with others.
2. Never lose another note. I can convert handwritten text within my notebook to print (ink to type) or type my notes using Word formatting.
3. Ever had a website disappear on you? Ever forget to quote your source for the passages you do capture?
OneNote has a toolbar icon that is ready at all times to clip and save your online sources. You can clip a highlighted part of a page, a full page, or the whole article. Plus, the program adds attribution to anything you clip.
It’s all in the menu you can access at any time in your research from an add-on that sits in your toolbar..
4. You can easily and permanently save notes, files, web sites, images, video, and audio. You can keep your photos (original and online), your interviews, your notes, lists, emails, etc. all in a single notebook under various organizational tabs.
5. When your fact checker asks for evidence, you can easily search within a section, or across an entire notebook, or all your notebooks using keywords. Now that’s magic!
This shows results from searching for “Texas” within a single section. Clicking the arrows takes you to each reference.
This shows results from searching for “Texas” across the whole binder, showing which tab and which page within the tab it is on.
Whether you are a novice or a pro, you deserve a talented research assistant. And your online one, available 24/7 for free, is ready to be interviewed!
ACTIVITY: Go to The 5 Best Note Taking Apps for 2021 and select a “research assistant” to try. If you are adventurous, try a tutorial for your favorite.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pat Miller is a former career elementary teacher and school librarian who published 20 professional books and 200+ articles before turning to writing children’s books. Of her 9 titles, Substitute Groundhog (Albert Whitman) and The Hole Story of the Doughnut (HMH) were named Junior Library Guild selections. With the Nonfiction Chicks, Pat has organized NF Fest. She and her husband have 10 grandchildren under the age of 10 who love books, and an illiterate shelter dog named Pepper. Learn more at www.patmillerbooks.com.
ABOUT THE PRIZE
Pat is giving a critique for a nonfiction picture book of 1000 words or less.