How to Write an eBook – Research

Last time, I called research the backbone of all good content. After all, what’s the point of writing? You’re trying to convince someone that you’re an expert on a topic, or in our case that our clients are experts. So, how do you do that if you don’t learn everything there is to know about the topic before slapping your eBook together?

I know it may seem like a whole lot of extra work – especially considering you’re on a budget and have a timeline in which to get the book done, but there are a number of ways to speed the process up and get more done in less time while still learning as much as possible about the given topic.

Head to the Bookstore

You have an outline in hand already, so it should be relatively easy to find what you need. If you would rather order your books, head to Amazon and purchase what you need as soon as possible. The one thing to remember about research is that you should never rely on any one book. The risk of accidental plagiarism runs too high when you use a single resource to research any one chapter of your book.

So, get a LOT of books – at least 4 or 5 of them – and start building a database from which you can draw whatever you need to develop your book. For a recent eBook about pet training, I purchased 7 books from Barnes and Noble. I read all but one of them and probably only used 20% of the notes I wrote down, but I managed to create a solid foundation of knowledge before I started writing.

Generating Notes

For me there are two goals when researching a new eBook:

  1. Learn as much about a topic as possible before I write anything.
  2. Absorb information from enough diverse viewpoints to create my own unique viewpoint.

If you don’t do both of these, what will your eBook offer that a dozen other products don’t already offer? Even if you manage to keep from copying content from someone else’s book, you’re still likely to sound an awful lot like one of those other writers.

Note Taking is Key

The note taking process can take many forms, but the easiest way I’ve found to do it is to integrate both handwritten and digital notes.

Digital Note Taking – You can use any note taking tool you like, but by far I recommend Evernote. This free tool allows you to sync notes from your PC, Desktop, iPhone, Android, or iPad among other devices (I think BlackBerry and a handful of other tablets are also supported). This way, if you research in the library or bookstore, your notes will sync with whatever you write while on the train or at your desk.

Highlighter and Stickies – If you purchase your own books, grab a highlighter and some sticky notes and take notes as you read the books you purchased. I highlight specific quotes I like or concepts I’d like to look up in greater detail elsewhere. I then write any specific thoughts or idea I have on the stickies and compile them when I’m finished reading the book in question.

Admittedly, my note taking process can get a little messy. I write a LOT of notes and then compile them at the end before producing an eBook – sometimes the note taking process takes a few weeks, other times I skim through it in just a couple of days if the eBook is short enough or I have already written on the topic.

Catering Your Research

Obviously, not all eBooks are technical or academic topics with other books to draw from. Some might require you to go out and do something. I have written more than 50 eBooks about various video games and applications and when I research them, I don’t read, I play. In some cases, I play a LOT.

If you plan on writing an eBook about a topic like gaming or carpentry or car repair, get out and actively engage in the activity. There are limits of course – if you’ve never been to Italy, flying there to write a travel book about Tuscan wine tours on a sub $1,000 budget may be hard, but there are videos and podcasts available to get you to the next best place.

Reading is Your Friend

Organizing Your Notes

By the time you’re done, I would expect you to have roughly 2-3 pages of loose notes for every chapter in your book. If you’re thorough, that number might be 5-10X greater. I had a client request I turn a handful of recordings he had into eBooks – the result was more than 60 pages of notes in one week of watching and listening.

The ultimate goal, however, is that you should be able to write your eBook without looking at a single resource. You have a pile of notes, a clear outline and a solid base of knowledge in your head – now you need to take that knowledge and apply it to the book. You may need to look up specific ideas or break down concepts further, but your notes should contain a LOT of that information ahead of time.

Some Tips

Much like the post on outlining, there is only so much advice I can give you without knowing your niche and the style of eBook you’re creating. Furthermore, this process works for more than just eBooks – you can just as easily write articles, sales copy, or newsletters by creating notes as we did above. Here are some additional tips to streamline the process:

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Develop New Ideas – Not every idea in your eBook should come from research. Feel free to develop new ideas and thoughts. In fact, that’s pretty much the point of all this work. Without absorbing as many viewpoints as possible, you’ll never generate a unique perspective of your own. But always, look for facts or examples to back up your new ideas – don’t start making things up just to be different. Even your own experience is okay as a resource – just be sure to let the readers know that you acquire the information through your own trials.
  • It’s Okay to Add to Your Outline – The outline we created last time is important but it’s flexible. If you find new ideas, dislike old ones, or simply want to reorganize the whole thing, feel free to do so. Unless it’s been locked in by a client, that outline is as permeable as you want it to be.
  • Ask for Other People’s Advice on Additional Topics – If you’re not sure whether your research covers enough ideas, ask someone who knows a little about the subject to share or review your revised outline. They can tell you if you’re on the right track or if you’re about to write something less than intelligent.

Research is as important as it comes. A good eBook is written around the basic principle of providing as much value to your readers as possible – to do that it must be unique. Research will get you there, but only if you’re diligent and patient enough to do so.

Next Time

Preparation is important, but eventually it’s time to jump in and start writing. In the fourth instalment, we’ll take a dive and start writing the introduction and first chapter of your eBook. From there, we can start soliciting feedback, developing a clear style and dig into the meat of the book.

About Anthony

Thanks for reading my blog! I've been in the digital marketing industry since graduating college in 2006 as a writer and strategist. I have an incredible family, a son with more energy than I can fathom, and an undying love for baseball and board games.

4 Responses to How to Write an eBook – Research

  1. jon April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Anthony

    This is a great post. I am not a writer, so these may be elementary questions.
    – When do you decide to attribute something to a source? When you have it in quotes in your notes?

    I am struggling a bit with this because even if I use 4-5 books and my own notes I wonder if I am still going to be plagiarizing or at least be on the edge. Can you give me some guidance on where that line is?

    Thanks

    • Anthony April 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks for writing! This is a great question – one more writers should ask.

      Plagiarism is more than just copying words verbatim, as you’ve alluded to. It’s taking ideas that are not your own and using them. So if you write about anything that isn’t common knowledge in a field – e.g. there are more than 200 breeds of dogs – you should cite the source.

      For example, if I write a book about “Getting Things Done” a productivity system developed by David Allen, I’m going to cite him as the guy who developed that system, even though there are thousands of books, blog posts, and articles written about it. When you add new ideas, thoughts, suggestions, or strategies to a topic, it is your own. If you simply take the ideas another writer has developed and reword them or repurpose them, it should be cited.

      It goes beyond notes even. Having read a book, it’s very likely I’ll mention a few things that the writer of that book discussed. If I weave it into my own stories, I may reference the origin of the idea (“David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy tells us….”) instead of quoting something.

      Another way to make sure you give credit where due is to have a references section at the end of your book – any book, article, blog post, or newspaper you read as research should go here as a reference.

      Hope this helps.

      Thanks!
      ~Anthony

  2. jon April 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Anthony,

    Thanks very much and that helps. Basically, when in doubt just go ahead and cite it, correct? Also, do you find after reading 5 or 6 books on a subject that you really do start to come up with your own spin on things? In other words, I guess, do you feel you start to gain insights beyond what is just written in those books as the ideas from each start to produce “offspring” for lack of a better term? I am curious about that part of the process.

    Thanks

    • Anthony April 4, 2013 at 7:55 am #

      Jon,

      That’s a good strategy. The thing is that as long as you’re doing attribution in some form, it’s okay. It doesn’t need to be carefully quoted and cited.

      What you’ll find, as you mentioned, is that as you read and take notes, you develop a LOT of your own ideas on the topic. Most of the time I write from scratch without referencing notes unless I want to bring in a specific fact or citation, assuming I’ve done the same level of research.

      Whatever you’re writing about, good luck with it!

      Thanks!
      ~Anthony

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