Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Behind the Books: How I Research

When I do school visits for grades 3-5, one of the questions that always comes up is how I do research for a book. I tell students that researching a nonfiction book is a lot like researching a report for school.

Most of the time, I start out by reading everything I can get my hands on—books, magazine and newspaper articles. Sometimes I watch documentary films or listen to stories on NPR.

Depending on the topic, I may also do firsthand research. For example, I might observe animals in their natural setting or go to a place where an event happened. I might also visit a zoo or aquarium.

Once I’ve done as much “passive” research as possible, it’s time to start interviewing experts. This is where the Internet comes in really handy. I just google “university of” and my topic. Most of the time a few scientists will pop up. I look at their websites, review their resume, and get a list of their scientific papers. After reading these journal articles, I contact whichever scientists I think will be most knowledgeable about the particular questions I have.

Once I have all this information, I start to write. Chances are I will find that I need additional bits of information here and there, and I may need to contact some of the scientists again.

I tell kids that they can follow a similar path as they research. First reading background material and doing firsthand research, and then contacting experts at museums or historical sites. These personal contacts are often the best sources of up-to-date information and interesting tidbits that aren’t in most books.

It’s a reality that many kids will probably depend on the Internet more than they should, so I also try to provide some tips for finding the most reliable information. I’ll write more about that next Wednesday.


  1. Just started my second grade research unit with observation of live animal web cams!

  2. Thanks for sharing your research tips. It's important to talk to the scientists actually doing the work. sometimes they have funny stories.

  3. Awesome idea, Kim!

    Yes, Sue, you're right. Scientists are a treasure trove of information.