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Research! What are some of your favorite tools?

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This topic contains 10 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Aarthi Ramanathan 1 year, 5 months ago.

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    I have a whole host of strange elements (to me anyway) in my new screenplay. So that means a whole lot of research. So far I’ve done the usual – books, movies and the odd interview.

    What tools do you guys use to bring your subject to life in your story?


    Shaula Evans

    Hmm. For me it really depends on the specifics.

    I’m trying to go the other direction these days: look a what kind of information / research opportunities I have access to, and work out what I could write with that. E.g., I’ve always loved museums, but as we travel I’m making a point to visit more (and more obscure) museums as a research tool.


    Mark Walker

    With very little free time to do research, Google is currently my friend… is danger to rely too much on sources that you are unsure of, but the old researcher’s trick of triangulation usually helps you work out if what you are reading is right or wrong!



    A lot of people like Scrivener to help them organize their research materials.

    I’ve just started using Docear, which is an open-source research/writing tool for academic types:  It doesn’t do corkboarding/index-carding, but it integrates mind-mapping with note and research materials management and exports to excel (and that’s not a bad idea, to use excel to do index cards.)



    Google and Youtube are my friends! Twitter works, believe it or not, in that you can search for topics and reach out to the person to see if they’ll humor you with some info. I’ve reached out to, and been successful with, people in the industry or dealing with specific topics and they’ve been kind with their time. The head of the Middle East Studies at the Royal Ontario Museum (an archaeologist) was extremely helpful with answering a barrage of questions. A former FBI Art Crimes specialist was helpful. War correspondents who’d been to Syria are willing to discuss things with me… Generate a humble email and ask if they have spare time or wouldn’t mind answering a few questions and tell them what it’s for. It’s worked 80% of the time for me :)



    Wiki is amazing for an intro on most things then it’s google google google and follow links galore.

    On the subject of obscure museums, here’s my favourite:



    Wow….thanks Despina. Yes I’ve always found as a journalist, the most knowledgeable people are often the most accessible.

    Thank you kindly Despina.




    You’re welcome! I hope you get lucky. Throw out a big net and don’t be afraid of the No’s. I even give them the option to tell me to ‘get lost’. Literally. Ha. I’ve already gotten one.


    Shaula Evans

    Two research tools I’ve used recently:

    1. Trying to figure out what houses were like in a specific location (for a script I was doing notes on), I looked up real estate listings for that area.

    2. Working with a writer friend to figure out what the most common vehicles would be in a specific place, I wound up looking at used car listings for that area: a quick snapshot into what cars has been purchased and were coming back on the market. (In this case, it was for a script where most of the characters would be driving second hand cars, so this worked out really well.)



    Well, as a tool I will generally point towards the internet, yet it is hard to know what to look for, isn’t it? Here’s some insightful topics off the top of my head.

    *criminality: helps to know what undercurrents are at work in a certain place; keep separate tabs on organized and rampant, unorganized crime;

    *trains and their timetables: important to know whether a long stop will be made there; junctions are important to note as they will easily reveal the type of people sitting around the trainstation; frequency of delays will give insight on how annoyed and crowded the mob is likely to be; same for coaches and other sorts of public transportation;

    *temperature and climate: a more trustworthy way of knowing how the locals dress, as opposed to random pictures; high heat and humidity also need to be taken into account as they will impact any character heavily;

    *economic ratings(not investment ratings): reveals the general level of poverty in a region/town; very important even from the start of choosing your setting;

    *discussion boards from and/or about the place: important when attempting to get a feel of the ‘politics’ of the place and insight on what issues are affecting that region’s populace the most; I would recommend looking up online publications of local newspapers, if only for the comment section :)

    *health ratings: always useful to know as medical systems vary across the planet and new information can prove to be adept inspirational material on various scenes you mean to write.


    • This reply was modified 1 year, 5 months ago by  Felix. Reason: Repensum canicula est

    Aarthi Ramanathan

    Sabina, I am glad you brought this up. I have been curious about how other people do this: the smart character that I am, three projects I am working on are seriously research intensive – the current one takes place in the early 1900s. I am only on the first draft and what I ended up turning to most are books. Used books. Library books…. books off ebay, amazon.

    I have spent more than I would like to remember, lol. Also used a ton of youtube, and I have two giant binders worth of internet research as well as old photos which can tell a lot about a particular period as well as listening to tons of audio and video interviews. Since the story is centered on early med schools, also been talking to a few med students and former ones and recorded and transcribed their interviews.  On the one hand, though I love the story itself, research can be a giant pain – but on the other hand, it’s quite an educational experience and a necessary one that has enhanced my understanding of the storyworld.

    Next script – would like to try something SIMPLE that is not a period and not a sci-fi (though I think I am addicted to these and Blockbustery things so I don’t think this self-writing resolution will last long)

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