Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bringing research data to life in nonfiction writing

Writing a nonfiction book requires extensive research. I followed the Conway, Missouri Robotics Club for a year following their national championship. I went to Kickoff Day, robot design/planning sessions, observed and took notes of group discussions - which included arguments as well as thoughtful questions, watched the robot building process and went to the Hub and Regional competitions. At school, I talked with students individually, went to parents homes for interviews, talked with the school superintendent (the principal wouldn't talk to me) and a few community members who supported the CHS Robotics Club. At the end of the research year, I had a ton of notes and pictures of the robot driver team and the competitions. What I did not have, however, was enough data about the required mock corporation that BEST required. Oops!  How did that happen? I began the research year focused on the robot, which was the focus of the Robotics Club sponsor. He had been the supervisor for the robot for a few years and in all fairness, in my first interview of the year, he mentioned the mock corporation and the girl who did the majority of the work on that component. He also said the teacher who usually sponsored that part was no longer available. His excitement focused on the robot, the boys who designed and built it and I did too.  My bad. I wasn't the diligent reporter digging for all facts until late in the year so missed taking pictures and notes about the corporation component during the research year.  As I began writing the book, I realized my lack of data about the mock corporation was a big problem. How could I make up for that? Near the end of the school year, I tried more than once to schedule meetings with "The Women of FRED."  They didn't show, for whatever reason. So I started writing without any of their individual comments other than very brief time at competitions. During my third manuscript revision, where I'd decided to write first person, I was stuck. Racked my brain, dug out phone numbers and set up a series of meetings with the girl that Mr. Gibson identified as his main helper for the mock corporation. She was enthusiastic about the book and readily agreed to meet and talk. Now in college, Ceira and I had lunch for as many sessions as I could work in with her busy school and work schedule. The time was worth every penny. I gained a year's worth of data in a month of approximately hour long lunch sessions. We'd eat and talk, then she would look over my latest chapter draft and tell me which parts were right on and which were not. It wasn't the best organized research plan up front, but we made up for lost time. The only thing I still regret is the loss of photographs because the school took down the web site at the end of the FRED school year. I attempt to make up for that in the Dread the FRED book, by painting word pictures of the mock corporation.

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