Research #6: Finding my way through the maze

Working on a topic as challenging as homelessness means I often get overwhelmed by both the complexity of the issue, and the need to distill it down into concepts and language that are easily understood by young readers.

My process so far has been to read and study the specific topic I am focussing on, commit to the page anything and everything that I think I need to include, then back up and edit that section or passage for clarity. At that point I also identify information that I still need, subjects that will need a graphic or photo, and any primary research I still need to do – and the people or organizations I might need to contact – to ensure I have a full picture of the issue.

I have also done some research into strategies and systems for researching and writing nonfiction. Perhaps the most useful has been an article called How to Simplify Complex Ideas by Henneke, on the Enchanted Marketing Website. Although the article is intended for authors of blogs, it’s applicable to non fiction in general.

In short, Henneke’s five steps are:

  1. Ask the right questions – and make each one small enough to answer in 1,000 words.
  2. Reduce the clutter
  3. Rewrite and rewrite again
  4. Organize
  5. Draw Pictures

As my book is built around the ‘Five W’s and How’ of the issue, I found myself halfway there to framing research questions that helped me delve into the causes, affects and responses to homelessness. (I have consciously decided to avoided using the word ‘solutions’, using ‘responses’ instead – as sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Even if the intent is there.)  

Henneke’s first guideline has really helped me drill down into each specific topic, thereby reducing the clutter and the amount of time I spend lost in the maze of information, stats and opinion.

Photo: The maze of Horta, Barcelona. By Carlos Lorenza

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