We all remember our high school research papers. Twelve or so pages of regurgitated facts, figures, and quotes. And completely devoid of voice. To describe them as boring would be an understatement.
Nobody really teaches you how to not lose your voice in your research. They just teach you how to cite research.
That’s a problem for authors of nonfiction writing in particular, who must find a way to use research to support or apply their idea. Because a book isn’t the research. The book is a unique idea.
When writers spend hours researching for their projects, the temptation is to include every single quote and study that supports their argument. Or, to use long, cumbersome block quotes that interrupt the narrative flow.
Quite simply, too much research can overpower your voice and lose your reader.
We sat down with Melinda Moyer, author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting—from Tots to Teens. As the title suggests, Moyer’s book is science-based and research-driven. Yet Moyer artfully maintains her individual voice—even in the midst of research.
In this blog post, we share two tips on how to not lose your voice in your research.
Reframe Your Research
Unless you’re writing a PhD dissertation, research is best when it is buried. That means, as a writer you incorporate the ideas into your own voice, rather than simply reporting what others have discovered, often through long quotes. Allow your voice to weave all the ideas (and voices of other writers and researchers) together.
How do you do this?
Start by collecting nuggets of research that relate to your idea. Create documents labeled by subject/idea matter, and drop quotes into the correlating subject documents. You might put the same quote into more than one doc, as you wrestle with how to best use the research. Sometimes, the research will pop up more than once in your writing. That’s fine, too. If it’s an important idea, it might demand revisiting.
Once you have written down the quotes verbatim, rework those nuggets of wisdom with your own words—in a way that the average person will find interesting. You become the translator of information that might be too dense for the average reader.
The key is to not simply regurgitate direct quotes. Through reframing the research, your voice will remain unique and present in your text.
Break It Up with Story!
To keep your reader’s attention, you need to continually tap into the reader’s emotion. One way to do this is through story. Stories bring to life the research by applying it or illustrating it.
Check out Moyer’s article ‘I Had Never Felt Worse’: Long Covid Sufferers Are Struggling With Exercise. She starts her article with a personal story. And then connects this story to her research. In a research-dense article that could be boring and overwhelming, personal stories allow your voice to remain present, and your writing artful.
Similar to reframing your research, the inclusion of personal anecdotes relies on your individual writing skills. It maintains your voice in order to relay the research.
Whenever you feel like your research is overpowering your writing, slow down and consider how you might reframe and break it up to maintain your individual voice.
Here’s a Glance at the Episode
[3:05] Melinda shares how her book came into existence.
[8:31] Learn how Melinda chose her provocative title, and how she got away with it.
[15:04] Melinda discusses the research that went into her book, how she maintained her voice, and how she balanced research that didn’t necessarily support her argument.
[26:12] Melinda shares her personal experience working with a book publisher, the editorial process, and the promotion of her book.
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