Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Facebook as a Research Tool

Do you use Facebook to help you write your books? Social media is a great tool for connecting and building relationships with readers, but you knew that. Though it has its limitations, Facebook can be a great tool in your research tool belt.

Here are a few examples:

1) Facebook groups: Does your character struggle with panic attacks? Does your villain have crippling fibromyalgia? What are the things that worry him? What are the motives that drive her to decide to move across the country? What fears hold him hostage? These and a million other questions...there's a group for that.

I have joined a batch of groups as I've researched books. Most often I've left these groups later, but there are a few I have kept on my roster. For instance I found a gathering of those who have left toxic churches. Although not direct research, reading the posts and comments on a monthly basis helped me to better enter my character's mind.

Instead of basing my research on one particular person I was able to understand the emotional landscape of a character in a toxic cult by noticing commonalities among others who went through similar difficulties.

Other sources for groups: those who live in the setting of your story, an interest or hobby of your character, professional groups, health conditions, ethnicity or nationality...the possibilities are endless.

  • Write a brainstorming list of possible groups, then join one for a month and see what you can learn about your character's world.
  • Be honest with those in the group. Let them know you're writing a book, many people are happy to help with some thoughts on the biggest struggles they face with alcoholism or their favorite places in Batavia.
  • As you research, be an active member of the group. If you find out great information about a possible cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, share it. Found a link or a good book, let others know.
  • Never use information anyone has shared in the group directly in any way.
  • Be respectful of the group, their privacy and any rules they might have.
  • Remember that your character's experience isn't "everyman's" experience.
  • Also, don't forget that what others share online isn't necessarily the only perspective.
  • Look to case studies, and other sources to check all your information.

2) As an aid to find other helpful web pages: Sometimes you know a key name or place but need to know where to go next for more information. Facebook pages can be helpful as they often provide links to similar sites. For instance if I go to the Platelet Disorders Support Association facebook page I can find out about blood disorders. I also use it to find similar sites which often pop up toward the top of the page. I also go and see which pages that page has liked. I find Lupus Awareness Friends, a website that contains even more specific information on the struggles of those with the illness. My research web has expanded in a matter of minutes.

3) As a general shout-out tool: Most of us have probably used social media in this way at least on occasion.


Are there any gastroenterologists online?

Does anyone know if this is the correct usage for an oxford comma?

I'm looking for someone who lives in the San Diego area to share their favorite California style pizza joint?


  • Is the person really who they say they are online?
  • Is the information they are giving me valid?
  • Are they truly an expert source or not?
  • Can I verify this information through multiple sources?
  • Use sparingly as a research tool.
  • Verify all information gained through reputable websites and resources.
  • When in a time bind, seek more than one opinion online...then check it all later.
  • Ask: Is this my best use of research time?
4) People finder: Though random fielding of questions often isn't the best research option, Facebook can also lead you to the true experts in an area. Everyone has a page these days. On nutritionist Josh Axe's page I find a link to his newest release, Eat Dirt. It also links me to about a dozen other pages of nutritionists. I am able to find further information on what foods someone with GERD might have to see a doctor after eating. This helps me better understand the journey of my main character. Facebook is a great way to connect with experts, sometimes they are even friendly and willing to help with your questions through messaging.

What about you? Have you used Facebook as a research tool? Share in the comments your favorite ways to use social media.

Julia Reffner is a Northern transplant who makes her home in central Virginia along with her husband, two homeschooled children, and three adorable ragdolls. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and is a reviewer for Library Journal. You can find her devotionals at Wonderfully Woven


Robin Mason said...

most of my research has been what i call "google-n-go" because i'm looking for more generic information, like street names in a city, or local cuisine, etc. but when my character suffered a spinal cord injury in my last MS, i needed specifics. via one of my writer groups, i discovered two writers who are also physicians (physicians who are also writers?) who were most helpful in narrowing down the scope of injury, and treatment. (i then had to follow up with a couple of PT's locally for her therapy.)
but yes, facebook is invaluable for research. i love that you base a character on a composite of people in (a) group(s)!!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Robin, love it when we make those connections! With care I do think it is a great tool and yeah, I definitely look to it for help with my characters. Thanks for coming by!