1. Jadabing

    Jadabing New Member

    Jul 22, 2018
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    Including research in non-fiction

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Jadabing, Jul 22, 2018.

    Hi there, I hope I've posted this in the right place.

    I have a question regarding including historical information in a piece of non-fiction. When is it necessary to reference where it's come from, and when isn't it?

    For example I've read (popular) travelogues where the writers have given an account of their journeys and experiences, but at the same time clearly done research on the places visited and given details about their history, without saying a word about where they learnt that information.

    Does it come down to how skilled the writer is at rewording what they've read to pass it off as their own knowledge?

    Many thanks for your advice.
  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Jul 7, 2016
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    Nonfiction is one word. I'm not saying that to upset or insult you. It's just good if you know that now and don't make that mistake someplace that might matter.

    I've done some travel writing. The first piece I sold I tied my travel story in with a law that had just passed that really effected a good deal of young people. I met with these people. I did official interviews with them, but I also went out for beers with them, to dance clubs, to dinner. Call it research. I also stood lookout well they were breaking this new law and that was exactly how I started my first travel piece.

    I did do a lot of research and attributed everything. I think some of that comes down to the fact checkers' calls and/or the editor. Even if you know stuff, you usually can get some expert to say it and that is often a much better source and way to deliver the information.
  3. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

    Sep 17, 2017
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    *Raises hand* Non-fiction writer here. Every publication has their own guidelines about attribution and style. In terms of style, writing for non-fiction publication is extremely different from academic writing, for a variety of reasons. (So different that on the first day of class, my very first news writing prof, a grizzled old-school trenchcoat reporter, threw an English comp textbook on the floor for dramatic effect and said, "Forget everything you've learned in this!")

    Space limitations are the main reason (footnotes and bibliographies would be a nightmare in terms of taking up space for something most readers don't even read.). It's also one of what readers want from a piece: For a fluff piece like a travel piece, most readers don't care about attributions as long as you're presenting the information clearly and in a way that's useful to them. (Note: That is not a reason to just make shit up off the top of your head, however. Some of us still believe in old-school journalistic ethics, and any decent publication does too.

    There's also the fact that for a writer with years of experience in a certain subject, such as travelogue writers, after a while, there are things you just "know" without having any idea how you came to know them. All the primary and secondary sources about that thing, combined with your own experience of the thing, all whirl together into one homogenous product that's just "there" for you to draw on, especially for writers who have excellent memories. It's like knowing trivia, or the intricacies of your profession. I know all kinds of weird things about my specialty subject that are factually correct but couldn't tell how the hell I originally learned them.

    For a piece of investigative journalism, or for a serious piece, however, you, of course, need to "show" more of how you arrived at the background (while of course protecting the confidentiality of your sources).
    Alan Aspie likes this.
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    You don't need to cite general knowledge. So if you were travelling in, say, Canada, and wanted to talk about the Santa Claus legend, no citation is needed. If you wanted to say the country was confederated in 1867, no need for a citation.

    Generally you do need to cite things that are someone else's theory/scholarship, So if you wanted to refer to Peter C. Newman's thesis that the United Empire Loyalists were the originators of the Canadian character, you'd probably want to cite it.

    And you generally need to cite things that someone might want to look at for themselves or that someone has taken a lot of time to put together, so if you wanted to say that Americans made 2 million trips to Canada in May 2018, you'd want to cite Stats Canada as the source of that information.

    But these are all generalities. Different publishers may have different expectations.
  5. Carly Berg

    Carly Berg Active Member

    Jan 22, 2015
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    We could probably give you more helpful answers if you told us more details.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019

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