The Importance of Cross Referencing Your Sources

Disclaimer: I am not being paid to mention any books or products in this post. All examples are included purely because they are relevant and/or cool.

The other day I was reading some articles about the book we are reading for book club (I know how nerdy that sounds: I literally gave myself bonus homework for book club) and I came across an article with a misquote in it. In the book, the author, who was new to management and looking for guidance, mentions that all of the management books he read lacked any real substance. In the article, the author quotes the book’s author as saying the books he read were key to learning how to manage effectively.

It may seem like a relatively innocent misquote, but it got me thinking: If I had just read the article instead of the book I would have gotten my facts wrong, and in turn, I might have inadvertently passed that false information on if I went on to discuss that book with other people.

Many people seem to think that just because you are writing fantasy you don’t need to do a lot of research: You are literally creating your own fantastical world, so you don’t need to ground it in facts or real life. However, even the most fantastical world needs to make sense, and that is where research comes in. All worlds need to be believable, and even if the reader doesn’t see most of the world you still need to flesh it out enough that it feels real.

Say you are writing a book with a Roman flavour to it and you want to know more about how such a vast empire managed to stay on top of everything for so long. You might turn to a source such as this, which talks about that exact subject. You know that a solid, extensive and well-maintained road system (or magic equivalent, such as J.K.Rowling and her Floo network) is key to keeping all the various factions under control.

Google is real life magic. You can literally find anything you need by just typing in your query and asking. That being said, not all Google searches are equal, and a well-structured query is much more likely to give you the results you need with a minimal amount of sifting. For most of us Googling something is so ingrained in our everyday life that we don’t really think about it, but if you want to improve your Googling skills there are free, self-directed courses that can help you.

If you are looking for something a little more academic or detailed you should turn your attention to Google Scholar. Google Scholar works like regular Google, but restricts its results to scholarly literature. This makes it much easier to find high-quality peer-reviewed articles, and avoid articles like the one I read for book club.

That being said, a good thing to remember is that if something seems off it likely is. Good research is an excellent way to check that the information you receive is accurate factual. As my one professor loved to say “Don’t just cite some random person’s blog. Find an actual article.”

If your focus is more on Science Fiction scholarly articles are a huge blessing. In particular, try and find articles that provide a meta-analysis on the subject you are researching. This will help you weed out outlying studies and save you the time of comparing different studies that aren’t necessarily looking at the exact same problem or asking the same question. When looking for meta-analysis articles look for articles that mention the phrase “systematic review”. This will help guide your research towards articles that you may find more beneficial.

Long story short, always do your own research and verify things that seem off. And don’t just go to some random person’s blog and hope that their facts are correct.

Happy writing!