Sign up to the newsletter

Over-active research syndrome

Do you get bogged down by research?

It’s expected that you’ll know all about your characters, but the time to worry is when you catch yourself knee-deep in research about their not-mentioned, not-part-of-the-plot Great Aunt Sadie Twice Removed.

Researching is part of the fun of writing, as long as it is not ladled over the story like gravy. This is where the ‘show, not tell’ aspect of writing comes into play. As a reader I like to know an author knows their subject, but I don’t want fiction to read like an encyclopaedia.

As a writer I need research to create believable and authentic stories, but I don’t want to clobber readers over the head with a research-shaped club. As much as I love research, it can be too easy to get carried away by unimportant details. Forget thyroid, call it Over-Active Research Syndrome (or OARS for short, as what is a condition without a good acronym?) I am totally guilty of OARS, and will while away hours when I should be writing, searching instead for a trivial bit of fluff that at the time seems crucial. I think OARS is in fact procrastination’s last stand. 

So how can we prevent research spiralling out of control? The key thing is remembering we are writers, not researchers. With this in mind, I create a chapter plan that gives me a rough idea of where my story is heading, and this will usually reveal what sort of research I have to do. I then book in time around writing to do the research that the story least, that’s the theory. Mostly I am still learning about how to create the best balance. It doesn’t help that I have a voracious interest in social history, so more often than not will end up with a full outline about what Great Aunt Sadie liked to eat for supper.Visit Jayne Ferst's blog at

If you found this article useful you might like to try:

In the name of research

Your writing zone

Websites for writers