Did I just hear some folks groan?
Writing is the portraying of a thought or image in your head as a word portrait. Whether your intended audience is the average reader or specialists in the field, you need to make certain that your word portrait is accurate.
This means you need to do some studying. If you're an expert in your field, you've already done your studying, but if you're not, you'll need to get a good working knowledge of your subject before you try to write about it.
Where can you find what you're looking for? One good place to start is your local library. Your librarian can help you find books and articles in the field you want to write about.
Do you want to write about a specialized field? People who work in or are experts in the field that you want to write about are a good resource, provided that you can find someone who is willing to give you all the time you need. Many people are flattered to be picked as a source for such research. Don't forget to mention them in the acknowledgements when your book is published.
Another source is bookstores, whether in your locale or online. It can be handy to have basic texts in the field you're writing about, whether you're writing something technical or writing fiction. Inspiration may strike in the middle of the night, when you can't make it to the library. Or if it's something that you might revisit in future work, having the texts on hand will speed up refreshing your memory.
The Internet is another resource. Just remember that anyone can put anything on the web and claim to be an expert, so double-check things.
Are you writing about a foreign city or country? Sometimes tour books can provide you with basic knowledge and a brief history of the people and the area, but if you want to do something more in-depth, read up on the history of your chosen place and get a feel for the people and the reasons why their culture is as it is.
Do you need help with places and cultures that you might not otherwise be exposed to, or about earlier periods in your own country's history? Historical societies preserve records and items that might be of use to you. There are also often tourist information or cultural sites online where you might be able to contact someone for information. If they don't know an answer, they may be able to direct you to someone who does.
Is it important to be accurate when using real places and people and periods of history? Yes, it is. Readers in certain genres are familiar with what is normal for the time period/country that you set your work in. Anachronisms are spotted quickly, and will cause your readers to lose respect for you as a storyteller. Some will even stop reading your work all together.
You don't want to lose readers because you didn't take the time to make sure you knew what you were writing about.
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