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How much research is enough?

Hi there. New here and hoping to help and to get help!
I am currently writing a crime trilogy, and as a reader of crime thrillers and psychological Gothic who-dunnits, I steer away from the police procedural style writers. I find too much accuracy about procedure just plain tedious. But how much research into forensics, pathology and police procedure is too little? Isn't it fiction after-all, and some artistic license is allowed? I am writing to entertain and thrill, not educate! What are your thoughts out there, and are there any publishing houses, agents or people in the know that could answer this please? Thank you. Sarah.


  • You need to undertake as much research as is necessary to make the plot believable. Many readers will base their own knowledge on TV programmes and will have a fair amount of appreciation of the basics.
  • If you're going to write crime then you need to know what's right.

    Most reader nowadays will be familiar with forensics, so if you get simple stuff wrong, they could doubt the quality of the rest of your book.

    There was a free online mini- forensics thing- quite a few TB's did it. One of them will probably be able to direct you to it.

    You need to research what you don't know and need to know. It's said that you only use 10% of your research, but you still need to know the other 90%.
  • Yeah - I am doing a lot of research and thoroughly enjoying it, but I don't want my story to get clogged down with my fascination with it. So yes, your comments are what I am doing at the moment. I just have that feeling that there is a bottomless pit of possible knowledge I could end up getting lost in, especially during the thorough edit of the book. Mm. Maybe I'm getting it right. Who should I ask? I have no-one in the know to read it.
  • Ask on social media - Twitter's a good place to look for beta readers etc.
  • what is a beta reader??
  • Oh - I looked that up, I see, a beta reader is a good idea. I guess I have to pay for the help though and money isn't what I have a lot of. I'm a garret writer you might say! Can't even afford the wine and cheese. :bz
  • Someone who reads your work and suggests improvements to SPaG, plot, characters, anything they wish to comment on :)
  • Nah, just ask a few friends to read it. Make sure you get as many as possible though because if one person says they don't like a character or aspect of your work you might be able to dismiss it. If seventeen people say they hate something you might want to think about changing it :P
  • Got it! Thanks :bz
  • I'd limit the amount of technical detail in the same way you would for any other scene. We all know to open a door we'd extend our arm using various muscles, grip at the handle, most likely with our dominant hand, and push, pull, or slide depending on the mechanism of the door...but if you put this much detail into every action you'd be lobbing the book against the wall by the end of the first page!

    If it's relevant add it, if not, cut it :)
  • One specific problem I have is one crime happens and then another with a different MO but only yards from the first. Does the same DI take the second crime too because of the locality? I have said she does because of the locality and the suspects both being female, like the first, although they think the first was accidental death, and the second murder. I want to talk to a police person but am not sure how to go about it. I have looked at police websites for they don't seem to be too encouraging about authors asking waste-of-their-time questions! :bz
  • And the accidental death is caused by status asthmaticus (a series of asthma attacks in series which is rare but almost always fatal) further complicated by a broken rib (due to over-enthusiastic CPR by her panicked boyfriend) puncturing the outer 'bag' (pericardium) of the heart causing what is known as a cardiac tamponade. It is complicated because the boyfriend needs to think he has killed her - it is only after post mortem that it is shown he was not to blame but instead had tried to help her. Now, I have researched all of this and it seems plausible, but I really need to get it read by a doctor or someone to be sure. Are there sites where you can ask this sort of stuff?
  • edited May 2016
    Are you on FB, Jaybirdie?
    You could use a public setting and ask for advice from police officers/medical experts. Many writers pose questions on FB and the public often come forward with useful info.

    Do you get Writing Magazine? There's a section near the back where you can ask crime-related questions to an experienced police officer.

    There must be police living in your locality. Do you have a local online forum where you could ask for advice?
  • Hi Tiny. Yes to all those questions. I have several pages on FB so could easily put out a question or two. The local police's website is terrible, and the local station is always closed! I would love to go in and ask face to face if I could chat to anyone. But yes, writing to the magazine is certainly something I could do. Ta x :bz
  • Off the top of my head, if the crimes are thought to be related then the detective would be assigned to the case. If not, I think it would depend on their case load.

    Plenty of sites you can ask on, Jay. Get on writingforums.com and any other of the biggies. Have you done a run down to your local library yet? I've checked out loads of books relating to criminology, police procedure, and forensics. A decent library could see you through this novel and all associated research :)
  • Write to authors you admire, ask them to point you in the right direction. Ask them what they do for research :) I've had a couple of very nice replies.
  • edited May 2016
    I don't see how there can be 'too much accuracy'. Either it's accurate, or it's wrong. There can be far too much detail, but that's not the same thing.
  • Hello, JB, and welcome to TB.
    If you state that someone has a health issue that is subsequently discovered to be the cause of death, you have to be accurate about that issue. You can be blurry about the facts when it's only the victim's boyfriend speaking, but anything a coroner or medical examiner says has to be factual.

    Given cuts in policing, it could be acceptable that a DI does attend both scenes as they're on top of each other. Until she gets there, how does anyone know it's a different MO? I'd think the first suspicion would be that the cases are linked.

    Police-speak and police procedure should be accurate; medical matters too should be factually correct.
  • Thank you. That's about where I am I think. I now know how I will find out the info I need. I will go to my local police station and library and start there.

    Thank you all for helping me. :bz
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