This may be a silly question but I'm always a little nervous of doing my research. I'm toying with the idea of writing a crime story, several members of my family love detective stories and the idea appeals.

This raises a concern, obviously in order to write decent fiction the author must do a reasonable amount of research. But what are the best methods to research into some less than savory topics?

I can't imagine that simply opening my search engine of choice and looking for ways to murder people without leaving DNA evidence is an ideal life decision...

How can amateur writers get the information they need to create a well rounded story without going into academic papers (which are often very complex) or veering off into darker parts of the internet?


4 Answers 4


While I agree with @what sometimes I'm not sure it is so clear cut.

There are deeper, darker areas of research than the good old fashioned murder, I'm reasonably sure I wouldn't have any issue googling around for that sort of thing. However I have had occasion when I've thought 'I really don't want this showing up on my browser / google history!' At that point it largely becomes a technical exercise that relies heavily on your level of paranoia!

If you're concerned about something showing up in your browser history, there's always private browsing.

If your concern is about your ISP / government agencies / google et al know what you're searching for, then you should spend a little time researching tor. Which will give you the ability to search for the things you need anonymously (the basic is that you download a special browser, and use that)

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    If you are so paranoid about your search history, does it even make sense to write what you've learned in a novel? Surely your name will be attached, or at least your publisher will want to send royalty cheques somwhere..... Jun 9, 2015 at 15:07
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    Imagine you want to write a story about a young girl who gets sucked into Islamic extremism and you want to make those encounters as realistic as possible. I would certainly be nervous about spending a month researching that world, and without privacy safeguards, it would catch the eyes of authorities that could well put me on a watch list of some sort! Whereas once the research was done, I wouldn't be at all concerned about writing a story that explained what I had researched. - Privacy is an important tool for anyone doing controversial research
    – Michael B
    Jun 9, 2015 at 15:50
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    Huh? Here, in Germany, the media are full of documentaries and news articles about ISIS and the kids that join them. Researching them is difficult if you don't read Arabic, but they have popular English, German and French publication channels (e.g. on Facebook) and everybody and their grandmother go look at those pages and leave derisive comments. No one would care if you looked at that, too. In a democratic society it is taken for granted that people educate themselves about what concerns them so they can come up with solutions which would be impossible without familiarity.
    – user5645
    Jun 9, 2015 at 21:38
  • The paranoia may be unfounded, there may be no issue at all with researching any topic on the internet. My point is simply that even if there are no direct consequences of researching 'darker' subjects, There are research topics that I certainly wouldn't want to have stapled to my search history for the rest of my life. Fortunately there are tools that can prevent that.
    – Michael B
    Jun 10, 2015 at 5:54

i might not answer your question, but i think i understand you. I had a similar problem. How to do it? How to write it?

I done these things to support my research: 1) My good friend is police officer and love good foot and drink. I told him what i want to do and asked him tell me what things i need to have in my pocket when i am going to search a body as an detective. I even played Role Play game in real time as a detective character to try it. I asked him what things police do first when they are catching someone.

Information from source to inderstand the problem.

And there is the other side:

2) Think like master villan. I literraly commited crime, but only on paper. Watched films about catching murderers, dark movies, not horors, like Zodiac, Silence of Lambs, i read Millenimu triology to understand how to think on a paper. Sherlock Holmes was my personal favorite material to read and look at. It is commercional, but those plots i good. Movies and books where author need you to think it.

3) Make alter ego. This is not simple. But in book, i am working on now i need to use some alter egos. So i created them. In my mind, real one. And trying situations where they will be functional.

Hope, it will help a bit.

Sorry for my english.


How do you commit the perfect crime? By finding the solution in a book or on the net? Maybe. More likely you are a creative genius and think up what no police officer has thought of before. Writing the perfect crime novel is the same: you need some basic information about the evidence your criminal wants to avoid, but beyond that you certainly don't want to copy anything from anywhere. You want to be original, and to be original you have to invent it!

Finding the basic information is easy. You don't even have to go to any "dark places" or a research library. Google explained to me in a matter of minutes, that you are basically dripping DNA and leaving it behind cannot be avoided. That's all you need to know.

From there, the solution is obvious. If you cannot avoid leaving your DNA, you have two options: either you hide your DNA in a lot of other DNA (by murdering in a well-frequented place); or you never are where the murder happens (by murdering from a distance). How you do one or the other, you'll have to make up by using the creativity that makes you a writer.

Have fun!

If you are worried about the NSA informing the FBI when they analyse the data they got from Google, just use Qwant or another non-US search engine that does not store your search behavior and does not set any cookies. No one will know what you searched for, unless you are already on their list and they tap your internet connection.

  • It would be great if switching search engines was all it took to stymie the progress of the assorted agencies involved, Unfortunately there's no need to be on a list to be tapped, every internet connection that is made is logged by the ISP and stored. So while they may not see your search for 'how to kill tinky winky' they'll know that your next two hours of browsing was across an assortment of anti-tellytubbies sites, some of which could be classifed as being extreme and by visiting them on your land line connection you find yourself put on a list, wearing an orange suit!
    – Michael B
    Jun 9, 2015 at 20:40
  • Actually I did google (!) for how to kill without leaving a trace before I posted my answer and none of the sites that Google listed where "dark" in any way that I could tell.
    – user5645
    Jun 9, 2015 at 21:19

About twenty years ago I was looking for a poison for a play. In the university library was a book listing dangerous chemicals and their properties. I searched through the list until I found a common (found in just about any university laboratory and any plastics factory) chemical that disolves invisibly in hot water (mixed with instant coffee) and attacks the central nervous system. The one thing I 'fudged' was whether it was tasteless or not -- it appears nobody had tried.

However, I share some of your concerns about telling the reader things they may not have thought of. Firstly, I know how to make a number of explosives from common chemicals. For example, making the mixture the IRA used for so many years in car bombs is cheap and easy. Should I share this knowledge in a book? I'm not sure.

Secondly, one day I had an idea for a simple, inexpensive way for a terrorist organisation to disable the entire railway system in the UK. The result would not only be economic chaos, but the death toll would be high because of all the people scrambling to use cars. Should I publish that in a story? I think not.

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    But that is the difference between a manual and a story! You can write a story about a mechanic, without needing to discuss how a carburettor works. You could spend a whole chapter with the character dismantling it, without ever actually conveying what a carburettor did. The research you do is so that you know, so another mechanic can read it and think 'yeah, that actually makes sense'
    – Michael B
    Jun 9, 2015 at 16:35
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    I think more people know (or think up) what you think are strokes of genius. When I was in high school, me and my friends built bombs using sugar and a certain insecticide and blew up dust bins. The interesting part is that whoever I later told about this gave me the name of the insecticide before I could get to that. It was common knowledge! Later our chemistry teacher explained the whole thing to us.
    – user5645
    Jun 9, 2015 at 21:26

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