Research Roundup

research: library

Love Your Research 

I can’t imagine a writer without some tools of the trade, even if those are only a good dictionary and a thesaurus, preferably a good manual of style as well. I share a few of my favorite resources.

Writers on Writingwriting 101: love your research

There are lots of ways to get inside writers’ heads.

Bicycle History to Celebrate UCI Road World Championships 

When my interest is piqued, of course I turn to research.

Books for Writers: Deborah Tannen 

Deborah Tannen has published numerous books that might be of interest to writers.

On Writing by Stephen King book cover
Stephen King’s On Writing

Dictionary of American Regional English 

Somewhere in my public life, I mentioned that I collect dictionaries. I have whole shelves of them, everything from slang to carnival jargon to common usage during the Civil War to books of insults and dirty words. I ordered all six volumes of the Dictionary of American Regional English—and then thanked my husband for his birthday present to me.

Wonderful Words 

I was much taken with Ammon Shea’s book, Reading the OED, a memoir of the year he spent reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary.

Beware Beautiful Words Beware Beautiful Words

Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them.


Love Your Research!

writing 101: love your research

I can’t imagine a writer without some tools of the trade, even if those are only a good dictionary and a thesaurus, preferably a good manual of style as well.

research books: Chicago Manual of Style, Oxford Dictionary, Thesaurus

Most of us have much more than the basics, however. I often set stories in times that are not now. Therefore, in order to get the details needed to enrich the prose and draw the reader into the period, I often rely on bits of dialogue about what something costs, or what’s being eaten or worn.

A few of my favorite references

For the cost of things, I turn first to The Value of a Dollar.

research book: The Value of a Dollar
The Value of a Dollar, Grey House Publishing

The most recent volume is 1860-2014, and new it costs $155. I first came across this book in the reference section of a library in Clifton Forge, VA, when I was researching my novel Nettie’s Books, which is set 1930-1935. I was delighted to learn that ham was 8¢ a pound back then, and that Sears was selling 25 Hershey’s 5¢ Almond Bars for $1. I wanted that book! The price of a new one was prohibitive, but by dropping back to the previous edition (pictured above), it was very reasonable. Indeed, I just ordered the one that covers 1860-2009 for $7.91 plus shipping.

As you know from other parts of this website, I collect cookbooks. But I also collect food reference books for writing, such as the two pictured here.

Being able to put waffle irons, Kool-Ade, Spam, and Jiffy Biscuit Mix in the right period is highly tempting! Among other things, such references may trigger childhood memories for readers and help draw them in.

In addition, I find it very helpful to have good references for popular culture and slang. In fact, I have several of each. I often write stories set in Appalachia some decades past, when saying an overweight woman wears clothes so tight she looks like ten pounds of potatoes in a five-pound sack can create just the right vivid image of the woman in question as well as giving insight into the speaker. A character saying, “What a hoot!” is clearly older than the one who says, “Whatever.” The two books pictured here are rather specialized ones, but more comprehensive options are readily available both new and used.

research books: "Remember That?" and "Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit"
Remember That? and Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit

I revel in dipping into these and other references even when I’m not researching a particular writing project. Some of my favorites don’t fall into any of the above categories, but they are great stimulants to striving for better, richer language.

research book: "Falser Than a Weeping Crocodile and Other Similes"
Falser Than A Weeping Crocodile And Other Similes

I was a reader before I was a writer (weren’t we all?) and for me, these are great reads! Advice to writers: choose research and writing tools you can enjoy.

What are your favorite research books and tools?

research: library
Photo by Tamás Mészáros

Books for Writers: Deborah Tannen

book cover of Talking from 9 to 5 by Deborah Tannen
Talking from 9 to 5 by Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen has published numerous books that might be of interest to writers. Three titles that come to mind are You Just Don’t Understand (male/female communication patterns); Talking from Nine to Five (communication in the workplace); You’re Wearing That? (mother/daughter habits of communication). They are classics by now, but still relevant.

Book cover of You're Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen
You’re Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen
Book cover of You Just Don't Understand! by Deborah Tannen
You Just Don’t Understand! by Deborah Tannen










Read more in my Psychology For Writers series

Psychology of Uncertainty 

The Principle of Least Interest

Why Writers Need Empathy

Why Women Have Sex: Character Motivation Matters

Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters: Guest Post on Thrill Writers

More Books by Deborah Tannen

You Were Always Mom’s Favorite: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives 

I Only Say This Because I Love You: Talking to Your Parents, Partner, Sibs, and Kids When You’re All Adults 

The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words 

That’s Not What I Meant: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships