How to organize research for your novel

Writers research guide example

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn the modern process of organizing research in Milanote, a free tool used by top creatives.

Writers research guide example

How to organize your research in 7 easy steps

Whether you're writing a sci-fi thriller or historical fiction, research is a crucial step in the early writing process. It's a springboard for new ideas and can add substance and authenticity to your story. As author Robert McKee says "when you do enough research, the story almost writes itself. Lines of development spring loose and you'll have choices galore."

But collecting research can be messy. It's often scattered between emails, notes, documents, and even photos on your phone making it hard to see the full picture. When you bring your research into one place and see things side-by-side, new ideas and perspectives start to emerge.

In this guide, you'll learn the modern approach to collecting and organizing research for your novel using Milanote. Remember, the creative process is non-linear, so you may find yourself moving back and forth between the steps as you go.

1. First, add any existing notes

You probably know a lot about your chosen topic or location already. Start by getting the known facts and knowledge out of your head. Even if these topics seem obvious to you, they can serve as a bridge to the rest of your research. You might include facts about the location, period, fashion or events that take place in your story.

Novel research board with known facts
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Create a new board to collect your research.

    Create a new board

    Drag a board out from the toolbar. Give it a name, then double click to open it.

  2. Add a note to capture your existing knowledge on the topic.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

Wikipedia, blogs, and news websites are a goldmine for researchers. It's here you'll find historical events and records, data, and opinions about your topic. We're in the 'collecting' phase so just save links to any relevant information you stumble across. You can return and read the details at a later stage.

Collecting articles and news clippings for novel research
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Drag a link card onto your board to save a website.

  2. Install the Milanote Web Clipper

  3. Save websites and articles straight to your board. 

    Save content from the web

    With the Web Clipper installed, save a website, image or text. Choose the destination in Milanote. Return to your board and find the content in the "Unsorted" column on the right.

3. Save quotes & data

Quotes are a great way to add credibility and bring personality to your topic. They're also a handy source of inspiration for character development, especially if you're trying to match the language used in past periods. Remember to keep the source of the quote in case you need to back it up.

Collect data and quotes for novel research
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to capture a quote.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

4. Collect video & audio

Video and movie clips can help you understand a mood or feeling in a way that words sometimes can't. Try searching for your topic or era on Vimeo, or Youtube. Podcasts are another great reference. Find conversations about your topic on Spotify or any podcast platform and add them into the mix.

Collecting video research for a novel
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Embed Youtube videos or audio in a board. 

    Embed Youtube videos or audio tracks in a board

    Copy the share link from Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud or many other services. Drag a link card onto your board, paste your link and press enter.

5. Collect important images

Sometimes the quickest way to understand a topic is with an image. They can transport you to another time or place and can help you describe things in much more detail. They're also easier to scan when you return to your research. Try saving images from Google Images, Pinterest, or Milanote's built-in image library.

Writers research guide step05
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Use the built-in image library. 

    Use the built-in image library

    Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

  2. Install the Milanote Web Clipper

  3. Save images from other websites straight to your board. 

    Save content from the web

    Roll over an image (or highlight text), click Save, then choose the destination in Milanote. Return to your board and find the content in the "Unsorted" column on the right.

Pro tip:

Allow yourself the time to explore every corner of your topic. As author A.S. Byatt says "the more research you do, the more at ease you are in the world you're writing about. It doesn't encumber you, it makes you free".

6. Collect research on the go

You never know where or when you'll find inspiration—it could strike you in the shower, or as you're strolling the aisles of the grocery store. So make sure you have an easy way to capture things on the go. As creative director Grace Coddington said, "Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you."

Writers research guide step06
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Download the Milanote mobile app

  2. Save photos straight to your Research board. 

    Take photos on the go

    Shoot or upload photos directly to your board. When you return to a bigger screen you'll find them in the "Unsorted" column of the board.

7. Connect the dots

Now that you have all your research in one place, it's time to start drawing insights and conclusions. Laying out your notes side-by-side is the best way to do this. You might see how a quote from an interviewee adds a personal touch to some data you discovered earlier. This is the part of the process where you turn a collection of disparate information into your unique perspective on the topic.

Writers research guide step07

That's a great start!

Research is an ongoing process and you'll probably continue learning about your topic throughout your writing journey. Reference your research as you go to add a unique perspective to your story. Use the template below to start your research or read our full guide on how to plan a novel.

Start your research

Get started for free with one of Milanote's beautiful templates.