Nobody likes to look stupid. An author that doesn’t do their research properly can look stupid as well as lose readers. That’s never good. Research can make your writing much more real. To write about a particular place, if it’s real, you need to know about it. If your character has a particular job, you need to know about it. If your character participates in particular activity, you need to know about it. Readers will call you out on mistakes.
If you can visit the location that’s the best form of research. If you can’t, research it. Learn as much as you can about it and take notes. It’s the same with activities.
I recently read a mystery where the main character was suspected of murder. The author had the police put up crime scene tape and change the locks on the character’s place of business. There are two things wrong with that scenario. One, in the context of the story, the crime happened elsewhere, meaning the business location was not the crime scene. They would not have taped it off. If it had been the crime scene, the police do not go around changing the locks on crime scenes. This is the research I’m talking about. There are plenty of books on police procedures. Mystery writers should read them. This is the research I’m talking about. The author of that story should have done a little bit of research — even if all she did was watch a crime drama on TV.
You don’t have to become an expert on the topic, but you should know enough to fake it. Do check your facts before you write something. That’s something I’ve not done in the past myself. I’m getting better at doing that now. As writers, we can’t afford to stop learning. I’ve made notes on scenes telling myself to double check something in the scene. That’s allowed. You can’t plan for everything, but once you’ve written a scene, you’ll be revising it. Check your facts then, if necessary. After all, no one can remember everything.
Of course, it’s better to learn what you can before writing a word of the story, but changing or checking your facts during revision is the next best thing. I use scrivener as my writing platform. It allows me to keep two documents in the same window, so I can check on my facts as I write the story. I save research notes in scrivener. I also use the multiple window approach. As I write this blog, I have scrivener open, since I’m using it, I have a web browser open, a kindle reference book open, and multiple excel files open for reference. You get the idea.
Before you write, do your readers and yourself a favor, do your homework. Research the areas of your story that you need to. Your writing will be better for it. You will keep your readers. Above all, you will not look stupid. That’s the benefit of research.