Writing Pitfalls – Can You Research Too Much?


French writer and journalist Ernest Daudet (18...
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So you are Writing a Novel.

Research is good for your writing, right?

Well Yes and No.

It is possible to over-research a story.

People will approach their research in different ways. Some writers will have a topic in mind that they already know about and will only research the points that they can’t remember or need to highlight. Others will research first, especially if the subject is unknown and will make notes.

Generally, it depends on what works for you and what type of novel it is.

If it’s a novel requiring lots of real-life information (I.e. Biography, academic etc)  you may need to plan and find a lot of research up front. If it’s a fantasy or fiction novel the research may be minimal or non-existent until you release that you need to check a couple of facts.

As usual (and as I write mainly fantasy) my stance is somewhere in the middle. I would suggest to research enough to get your facts right but would recommend not researching excessively before putting pen to paper.

If you are writing a story or article and need the information first then by all means find it out first. If, however you are writing a novel and you are bogging yourself so far down in research that you’ve barely even started, then write something first and leave a reminder to check certain facts later.

This is especially useful when you haven’t chosen the setting of a story but know what sort of setting it will be. I.e. A school, a city, a hotel.

The reason I would advocate getting some writing down before researching in massive amounts is that you can fall into a common writing traps:


  • Researching a project you’ll never finish.
  •  Losing interest in the story because you are bored of it already. (Research can sometimes have this effect on a writer)
  • Constantly spending time on new projects while never committing to finishing any of them. (Being hyper-critical in the early stages can also have this effect.

Sometimes you’ll put a lot of effort into a project but it won’t go anywhere. Maybe it just doesn’t feel right and you don’t want to go any further. Spending a lot of time researching a story before getting stuck into the first few scenes can sometimes turn you off a project.

While this isn’t true of everyone, most people have met (or have been) someone who are always starting new projects but never seem to finish any. As writers, we love new ideas and can often get distracted by our next, new story.

 `Shiny.’

Writers can be easily distracted by shiny, new projects.  I know I am!

This is good practise but it would probably be better to leave most of the research in the beginning while you get stuck into it.

You’ll often know which story you really want to carry on because it will be the one you care the most about.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Pitfalls – Can You Research Too Much?

  1. That’s so true that you can often be stuck in the research and never actually start the novel. I’ve heard that writing the novel first and doing research afterwards to fill in the gaps works better but I’ve never put this into practice.

    • Having read a lot of different views on this, I’ve tried both and I found that the story I wrote first and researched later worked much better than the one I put a lot of research up front into it so I’m thinking I’ll stick with the first method for now. 🙂

  2. Tsk…tsk…It was like I was reading about myself! I’m known among family and friends as the queen of many projects and the publisher of none. And yes, it’s because I tend to research some things to death. I shall definitely follow the advice given here! Again, great post.

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