This is vague and is not meant to be viewed as a guide on researching or to present myself as an expert in shit at all. I’m just documenting my general process for learning about new things and what I look for. This is me laying the groundwork for understanding a topic not me becoming an expert.
Generally, I identify what topic I need to research specifically. This sounds obvious, but I think it’s useful to actually write out what I’m looking for. Right now, the story I’m working on involves addiction. More specifically, opioid addiction. This isn’t something I struggle with personally, although drug use was very prominent in my childhood, so I have some passing familiarity, but not really much beside that. Hence, the research.
I know I’m looking at
These are very broad topics though, and googling something like “addiction” or “opioids” probably wouldn’t get me the information I need specifically. This is also not a research paper, this is a creative writing project for myself. I’m not being graded on this, but I do want to not put out any misinformation or accidentally create something harmful. Becoming an expert on the topic isn’t something that can be done quickly, but with my purposes of writing that isn’t really necessary. I just want to know enough where I feel like I can write something and not fuck up every way possible.
So, again, narrowing the scope. Like I said, this isn’t a research project, it’s a story. For this story, addiction comes up in two major ways: The selling/encouragement of drugs by a negative character, and a side character who is struggling with addiction.
This means what I want to learn more about involves the actual industry and systems that contribute to drug dispersal and the impact on the community as the first part. Equally as important, if not more so, I want to learn how to ensure I write a character with an addiction empathetically and accurately.
Which means my main topics I’m looking for are:
- The opioid crisis in America
- Portraying characters with addictions
Generally, I take these one step at a time. I have a passing knowledge on these things, but not much really. Right now the part of the story I’m working on is creating character bios actually! So, I’m more interested in portraying characters with addiction at the moment, and that is what I’m going to look into first. The topics are very closely related, of course, so they will have a lot of overlap.
- Find a basic video
Personally, I like to get a general overview of the wider topic as my first step. I’m looking for something simple and digestible as a beginners course basically. And this is the part where I emphasize again, this is not a school paper. I am not trying to become an expert. I’m writing a story.
Videos are the easiest way for me to gather information, personally. They hold my attention best, and hearing things helps me understand them. I look for something that is simple and a general base knowledge. I don’t want anything where I think there may be completely wrong information or unverified, so there still needs to be some legitimacy to it especially since this topic is more political and misunderstood.
Honestly, I just try and see if John Oliver or Crash Course has a video on whatever I’m looking up. Even though I know I’ll need to do more in depth research later and confirm facts, I know that those types of creators have professional fact checkers and are used in an educational setting pretty often, so I don’t have to know about blatantly purposefully wrong information.
I also know that those types of creators are more left/liberal leaning, which can be a bit trickier. In general, I know enough about things, like John Oliver for example, that in my experience he tends to be detailed and accurate about issues in America surrounding the health industry. He’s someone I know my Sociology professor (who I think is neat) showed in class for a different health topic in America (I think it was about dialysis?). I also know he’s done several videos harshly critiquing pharma and American healthcare and that those criticisms were also directed towards Democrats. Those experiences mean that I don’t think he would give out purposefully incorrect information for a political gain or propagate to make pharma/politicians look good.
In contrast, even though I know he’s left leaning with things like foreign policy, my experiences are that he’s not thorough enough and that there isn’t an anti imperialist lens with him. So, I might not have that as a go to if I was learning about a topic involving China or Palestine for example.
I also know Hasan Minhaj has done a video on opioids, and from my own experience, I know that he leans further left and that his show is thoroughly researched. Both these creators also put their sources on the screen when stating things which is a really good thing. I try not to watch any videos that don’t have their list of sources readily available. Transparency is a good sign, but also, you still need to check the sources. If I watch a video/read an article where I notice them using several red flag sources, or that a lot link back to blog posts or noncredible sources I basically just dip out.
Since those are good starting points, I open a google doc only for sources and add them to it after I already watched/read/listened/etc to the source. If I haven’t watched it, I can bookmark it or leave it open in a tab, but I only put in links I know I’ve already viewed and thought were valuable. This way when I refer back to it there isn’t any confusion and I know the doc is decent.
I watch a few of these types of videos, ones that are informational, but also entertaining for myself before moving on. If I was looking up the opioid crisis specifically then my next step would be to find more academic sources about the topic.
Right now though, I’m looking up character things!
- Figure out what not to do
I wanna write a character, but I also don’t want to fuck up! I literally just google it.
For this I specifically googled “writing about addiction” simple and easy. What I’m looking for in my results isn’t the same as when I was finding out facts about opioids. I still want to be critical of my sources, but instead of trying to find news sources or academic sources, I’m mostly looking for blog posts.
I don’t just click on the first link every time, obviously. With googling, I realized that “writing about” can have multiple meanings and that there are also results focused on writing about addiction in an educational setting or as an organization. That’s not what I’m looking for, so I skip right over the second result. Google also pulls up links with similar words, so some things show writers with addictions. This is also not what I’m looking for.
The link I clicked was the first one here. Clicking on it, the site was set up differently than I expected with the layout, so I did look through more of it and read their about page because I was curious. Turns out, it’s an organization specifically about healthcare marketing and the language used.
I actually think that’s super interesting, but also does raise some things to consider while reading through it. This is a source for marketing, not creative writing. This means that the focus of the group would be on the health industry and their clients first. It also means that they’re most likely not speaking from a position of experiencing the identity.
For me, this means I want to take what’s on here with a grain of salt. I still read through it and kept the page because a lot of what they’re saying is backed by organizations built around substance abuse, so at a minimum, this language would come up fairly often in future research. It might also be something useful for myself in differentiating viable sources from negative ones to see if those sources are using the same language as other healthcare professionals and advocacy groups.
On the language, it also pointed out some things for me to consider! For example, that the term “substance abuse” isn’t in use anymore on the DSM-5, but is now referred to as “substance use disorder” due to a variety of factors. It also brought up different commonly used terms such as “clean vs dirty” or “abuse vs misuse”.
It was informational enough for me to adjust my own language, such as saying “I’m researching substance use disorders” instead of “addiction”. There’s still things I want to look up with language, however, because I know that writing for a health facility or as a journalist is different from everyday language, and doesn’t always match how people of those identities speak. First person language is an example of that where I know conversations aren’t cut and dry about appropriate terminology.
I also know from my own experiences that many people still use the terminology of “addiction’ specifically, and that using official terms can actually be off-putting or come across as condescending.
So, this isn’t an essay, it’s a fictional story. Not all the information I learn is going to be implemented in the same way.
Back to research. I make my way down the different blogs in the links and take note of a few things. Does the person have a substance use disorder or identifies themself as an addict? If they include links/sources are those good sources? Is this something they have experience with in other ways or some type of expertise?
The first actual blog I clicked on mostly reviewed basic facts from things they had looked up prior. I skimmed the post, but otherwise didn’t find it useful. Most of the information I already knew, and there wasn’t a perspective worth taking into consideration.
The second link was a guest writer where I threw that one out as soon as I got to “In that sense, addiction narratives are schizophrenic, offering two perspectives—one reliable, one unreliable—opposing and informing each other.” because that’s fucking stupidly ableist.
This is also the part where I remembered how annoying it is to find good sources lol.
“Drug addiction and alcoholism are challenging, controversial, and complex to write about, but I personally choose to address both, in my fiction. I do have personal, although not recent, experience, in the areas of problem drinking and volatile substance abuse – but not of using illegal drugs.”
The user acknowledges the complexity of the subject and actively writes about it in their fictional writing. They state that they have some experiences with the topic, but are also transparent about the limits of that. They also have several hyperlinks leading to both resources on the topic that are credible, as well as to their own writing on similar topics so it’s possible to gauge how well they handle other things as well.
I really liked the points they brought up for consideration and made note of them for things to look more into and areas I need to flesh out my character.
Other things I found included things like how creative writing can be used in rehabilitation, examination of language choices through people experienced in the topic, questionable post about describing drug use on this blog with a fantastic background, some shit by a criminal defense lawyer, also reddit.
- Circle back to questions raised by prev step
I read a bunch of things, and now I need to figure out what information I’m lacking in. Usually for this, I look for more in depth and detailed sources about aspects of the topic. There’s things to consider, especially for an individual character.
The first thing I’d want to learn more about is how substance abuse would interact with other aspects of the character’s identity. For this character, they’re a teenage black boy from a middle class home. I just pick the part I’m interested in or think will be easier to start on, so I’d look up information about substance abuse in adolescents. This pulls up a bunch of shit because I guess D.A.R.E was a thing or something and the country is obsessed with teens and drugs. I need to narrow my scope, and choose sources that I think are less likely to be propagating harmful information.
I’m looking at opioids and prescription pill addictions specifically, so I switch over to teens and opioids. I usually look at articles, news sources, health organizations, and government links first for finding things specific on statistics and other hard facts. An article describing the problem and asking for more attention on supporting teens is a good starter. I also look at a gov site about youth, got distracted by this page of fucking drug games for radical youths lmaooo, another gov site about teens seeking help for this, a few news stories about teens and opioids or specific incidents of exploitation of teens.
I would then do the same for opioids and black people with finding similar information about the topic. In theory, I would want to find information on black teens and opioids as a single group, but there often isn’t specific studies on it. I’d probably go back through later though and see if I could pull up anything.
- Find first hand accounts
After this, I would look for anything I could find of people describing their experiences. Honestly, I’m kinda just tired of writing this so I’m gonna zoom through.
These can, and honestly maybe should, be informal sources of just people talking about their experiences. I usually browse things like reddit AMA and read through those, or look through a community resource list.
To be clear, this is not a neutral action. I specifically look at AMA’s because it’s something where a person is offering up information about their personal life. A lot of subreddits have a starter page just of resources or FAQ’s. I would always read the rules of the subreddit first before doing something like browsing threads on there about specific identities. There’s a level of consent that should be thought about with this as outsiders to a community.
This matters more in some spaces than others (again, check the rules) where there are communities who have a focus on wanting to spread information as a form of destigmatizing it. Or, there’s just some groups who like to talk about their experiences/culture and are very open to answering questions about them.
But also, some spaces are not for outsiders, and you should be mindful of that. Not all information is open to access either.
For example, when I was researching schizoaffective disorders, I only looked for personal accounts in spaces offered because I knew there was a real issue of people going into and flooding forums to ask advice for their writing. That kinda sucks, ya know? Instead I found a fantastic channel on youtube focused on sharing experiences about their everyday life.
When I was looking things up about a specific Indigenous tribe, I also learned that there are parts of their culture, especially spiritual practices, that are not made for public knowledge and that you need to be careful with your sources to ensure it’s not stealing and spreading private information.
Idk, that’s my disclaimer. Be respectful and don’t make it weird.
- Read the work of the group
This tends to be my last step for a basic run through. I’ll go through and find writing by people who share that identity. I try and read memoirs where I can, especially ones that have other similar identities or experiences as what I plan on writing. I also try to read others’ creative work too though!
I like YA and that’s what I’m working on writing at the moment, so my plan is to pick up or reread books that I know have a focus on substance use disorders by authors who are open about their own experiences.
Generally, I’ll just search for lists of books and authors under the topic and find ones I think are interesting and would wanna read regardless. I’ll also go through books I’ve previously read or own that I know fit the criteria and reread them.
Personally, I think this is kinda an underrated aspect of research. I think it’s good to not only do research on the subject, but to also see what stories people of that group are interested in telling and what depictions they find representative of themselve.
- And then kinda just keep going
Like I said! This is just how I start my process to try and get a basic understanding of a subject! This isn’t a one and done deal, but a continuously ongoing process of self education. Even when working on something, I still try to engage with the topic. Even when I’m done with it! Generally, I’ll do a few things.
- Follow blogs/twits/etc about the topic or that frequently post about it. That way I can still be exposed to new information, articles, studies, and all in a casual setting
- Stay on the lookout for new media about or by people of that identity. Still making sure to check for new books, movies, tv shows, and all.
- Find podcasts/youtube videos about the topic that I can play in the background when I’m doing other things like drawing/cooking. I usually listen to something while doing those activities, so I try to also include topics I’m learning about in that rotation
- Watch live streams of panel discussions when they come up. Haymarket Books constantly has panel discussions happening, so I try to keep up if there’s a topic I’m interested in.
- Find some more academic/dense literature on the topic and slowly make my way through it. I have like so many books I am not reading though which is why this is on a “for the future” list instead of an immediate research step.
That’s it really! This is what works for me when it comes to writing new things and wanting to do research. Depending on the topic, piece I’m writing, or prominence of the character/subject it can be a lot more simplified than this or more complicated. This specifically with substance use disorders, opioids, and responses to them is something I’m going to have to spend a lot more time on. It’s a big topic and something prominent in what I’m writing, so I expect this to be something I spend several months learning about.
If this was something that was a part of idk a simple one shot fanfic I was writing then this is probably about the amount of research I would do before continuing on with the fic? I really don’t view anything I’m learning about as a job “finished” or whatever. I would also hope that the next time I write something about the topic that it would be more well informed and nuanced since I would want to try and reflect on what worked for the previous piece and what didn’t.
ANYWAYS if anyone made it this far then I’m so sorry because I am not editing this *blows u a kiss*