Writing a Nonfiction Chapter: Integrating Research

By now you should have some solid fragments of writing, a loosely organized outline, and some gaps that have been filled in. The next step is integrating quotes and sources into your writing.

Over the six-month to a year process of writing, you should be reading articles, listening to conferences, reading books, and gathering the information together under chapter categories. Sometimes you’re just expanding your knowledge, which is necessary for writing a book, but in other cases you’re accumulating quotes and key points of research that will back up your writing.

While reading books I tend to use small sticky notes to flag particular pages, writing on the notes where I imagine the quote fitting into the chapter. This can save a tremendous amount of time flipping through each book in search of quotes. In the case of online material, I heavily rely on del.icio.us, an online bookmarking service that allows you to tag web pages in particular categories, as well as saving chunks of text you’d like to quote. When you have an idea of where your chapter is going, these sticky note tabs and online bookmarks will help fill in your chapter.

Of course there will be time in the course of writing when you’ll simply need to look up a fact or do a bit of research, but when working my way through a pile of sources, I tend to either drop them all at the end of the chapter, or to sort them according to the outline. It all depends on how many I have. At this point you’ll also want to create a scrap file for each chapter, a place to dump stories and quotes that don’t quite fit, but may not warrant deletion.

At this point your chapter should be stronger, with quotes and citations adding an additional punch to your anecdotes and main points. You should take note of your weak points, continue to seek out helpful sources, and make sure your outline maintains a logical flow.

For some additional insight, see Don Miller’s post about writing a book.

Posts in this series:

  1. Start writing what you know.
  2. Brainstorm ideas for the rest of the chapter into a draft outline.
  3. Continue writing based on this outline
  4. Integrate quotes and research into the chapter
  5. Read through the chapter to sharpen the outline and fill in gaps.
  6. Revise your chapter draft.

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