Monday, November 28, 2016

My Favorite Research Tool

As a nonfiction author who does a lot of research, I’ve found one tool that is indispensible:  my camera. 

I’ve traveled to many different libraries, museums, and historic homes to do book research. Every library and museum has research documents that no one else has.  While a growing number of primary sources are scanned and made available online, there will always be more that are not online.   The only way to access them is to go and see them in person.    

When I travel to research sites I have limited time to spend.  So getting as much information in the time I have is crucial.   Sometimes research libraries will allow me to scan the documents I need.  For those I scan them to a flash drive, or email them to myself.  

But sometimes there are simply too many documents to scan.  In that case, I ask for permission to take photos for research purposes.  I always ask first.  While libraries and museums want researchers to use their information, they are also very protective of their collections.  If there are lots of documents, taking photos is much faster than scanning them.  So I take photos of the entire page.  When I get home I can go through them and zoom in to get a better look. 

I use both my phone and a point and shoot camera for this.  I’ve also learned (the hard way) to take extra battery chargers to power up my phone, as well as extra camera batteries and memories cards for my point and shoot camera. 

On my last research trip to Mount Vernon, I spent a lot of time in the amazing Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington.  I came home with literally thousands of pages of research material.  Some are scans and some are photos.  

So take your camera and start researching!

Carla Killough McClafferty


  1. Great idea! When out & about, I take pictures of street scenes, landscapes, whatever strikes my fancy, so that I can look at them later to recall weather, colors, smells, etc. I also take pics of historical markers that give general overviews of events.

  2. Dear Jane, thanks for the comment. I do the same thing, especially when I'm doing research as it saves a lot of time.

  3. Wow! I've never written non-fiction before (outside of memoir); this is an incredible amount of work. THANK YOU for doing it! I'm sure it makes your books so much richer (and obviously more accurate) because of it!

  4. Sarah, thank you for your comment. Nonfiction is a lot of work because everything I write must be based on source documents. It is always my hope to write them in such a way that amazing, true stories read like a novel. Carla


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