Pocket Folders for Research
by Donna Schlachter

We just returned from seventeen days in Texas, the longest trip we’ve taken since our honeymoon thirteen years ago. This trip was a combination of business and personal, as most of our trips are. We attended a Gideon convention in Dallas, did some research in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, then visited friends in south Texas about halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

The research portion of our trip focused on ranching and farming, mostly for the current book I’m writing, but also in preparation for future books. I always seem to have at least one project in process and several stories circulating in my head at any given time.

I love to ask the What If questions: What If cattle rustlers figured out a way to change the brands? What If my heroine came to work at the district court this morning and found a body in her chair? What If my hero’s prize bull stampedes through my neighbor’s yard and kills her prize cow?

One of the things that helped me this trip were some pocket folders I’d purchased. Actually, they were more of a pocket than a folder — a plastic pouch with a zipper. You could see through the plastic, even though the folders were different colors. I was able to categorize my papers for the hotel, the convention, my gas receipts, all those bits of paper I struggle to keep tabs on in the car.

I could see using these pockets to help me with ideas for my stories, too. When we toured a ranch and farm museum, I put the brochures and information into a pocket I’d set up for ranch and farm research. We visited several old forts, and I used a folder to collect that information. The Dallas Aquarium provided some interesting information for another story where my heroine finds a body in — you guessed it, an aquarium.

In the old days, I would have printed out my pictures and tucked them into the appropriate pocket. Now I can save the pictures on a CD and include them in the pocket. All of my research in one handy place, in a plastic folder I can see through. I can move the information to other folders if at some point I focus my research more succinctly, or if I combine several story ideas into one.

Getting more organized helps me be more productive, more concise in my writing, and helps the story have those details that help the reader experience the setting. Whether you write historical or contemporary or futuristic, research abounds that’s just waiting to be gathered, categorized, and used in our stories.