Master Story Gathering: Four Steps to Research Story Ideas for Any Nonfiction Book

Think about any of the most popular nonfiction books: Atomic Habits, Braving the Wild, Tipping Point, Start with Why, or Lean In. What percent of the writing in these books are stories?

Most people will guess 25-30%

Wrong. When we analyzed the best-selling nonfiction books, 70-80% of these books are story driven

It’s not just facts, figures, frameworks, and teachings that matter. Stories are what lead to exceptional nonfiction books. Stories make us care, tap into our emotions, and help us learn. And that’s why it’s critical to master the art of story gathering when writing a nonfiction book. 

Mastering the Art of Story Gathering

Modern Authors need to write stories for great books. And to write great stories, you have to gather great stories (or at least gather the raw materials to write into a great story).

What kind of story ideas should you look for when writing your nonfiction book? The answer may be obvious — you want story ideas that revolve around real people, places, and events. And learning about them first is an essential part of writing a nonfiction book.

As you start the book writing journey, we’ll learn and gather content for your book. So, learning before you write is critical: it helps you understand what you want to write about and how your topic fits into the bigger picture.

And where to find and gather stories? The great news is that the last few years have unlocked a flood of new story sources: the best I’ve discovered include podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs, and even social media.  

Whenever you’re out gathering information, just gather stuff, write up a few notes about it, and you’ll be fine. The following example will demonstrate how you can do this as a nonfiction author. 

There are usually intersections of things in great books. You might talk about trauma and business executives, or you might talk about your experience, understanding how the male perspective finds happiness, whatever it may be.

Let’s imagine you’re writing a book exploring the intersection of politics and technology. 

Sometimes, however, you look at intersections of things, and that’s a great place to start. In the case of this book idea, we are going to look at the following:

  • Technology 
  • Politics 

Great books often explore the intersections of two or more things.

Let’s say the book title is: The United States of Tech: Can Technology Save Politics?. However, as of now, you have yet to decide where to start. You could be interested in understanding how the world could evolve, but you want to understand polarization and new third-party campaigns. Essentially, what we’re going to do here is walk you through the following four steps that might help you discover the book’s direction and the book’s content.

STEP 1: Identify Book Keywords 

STEP 2: Hunt for Stories (in everyday places where stories live online)

  • Podcasts
  • TED Talks
  • YouTube
  • Google

STEP 3: Capture Intriguing Stories & People 

STEP 4: Write Short Notes (Snippets) About Each Thing You Capture

STEP 1: Identify Book Keywords 

As a first step, you will have to define book keywords, which you can use to sort and hunt for books. Keywords are words that describe the topic and central theme of your book.

At this point in your book, you may have some theories, ideas, and questions you’re exploring. Look at your book description and identify words or phrases.

One of the first things that come to mind when discussing technology and politics is the two-party system, third-party candidates, online voting, and social media. Usually, you’ll settle on a dozen or so keywords and phrases that are interesting most of the time. 

As a result of this process, you can refine things. This is one of those things you will add to and change over time, but you can start by deciding on a few keywords. I like to use the thesaurus, and sometimes I’ll let Google autosuggest help. About fifteen minutes of thinking, exploring, and hunting on the internet can get you a robust list.

Example: The United States of Tech: Can Technology Save Politics?

  • Keywords
  • Technology
  • Politics
  • Two Party System
  • Third-Party Candidates
  • Online Voting
  • Social Media
  • Etc.

STEP 2: Research Typical “Secondary Interview” Sources

You’re going to be writing stories. 

Next, we’ll look at common secondary sources. We’re looking for stories. Ideally, we’d like to hear first-hand accounts of events. You will look for someone on a podcast, Ted talk, or panel to share their experiences. 

However, you won’t be interviewing them one-on-one to gather information, but you will listen to them as if you were. When searching for content for your book, you should consider four primary platforms:

  1. Podcasts (Apple and/or Spotify)
  2. TED Talks
  3. YouTube
  4. Google

Podcasts (Apple and/or Spotify)

Searching on Podcasts is fun and easy. Pick some keywords you think would be relevant, but I suggest picking more specific keyword phrases. In this case, if you just put politics or technology, it will be pretty broad, but if there are some key ones, you should go into those. In this case, we will consider third-party candidates. 

There is an idea here about how someone with a third-party candidate could use technology to stand out. So all that we have to do is start by putting that into apple or Spotify. 

Example: The United States of Tech: Can technology save politics?

  • Go to Apple and/or Spotify
  • Search
    • “Third Party Candidates”
    • “Two Party System”

TED Talks

The second one is TED Talks. It has an excellent repository of speakers and speeches, and an algorithm that lets you find “what is similar” to a talk you like. Aside from being transcribed, TED Talks are also searchable, so they are straightforward to use along the way. So we just go to forward slash talks and add those keywords similarly. 

Go to:

  • Add keywords and search → “Two Party Political Systems”

Find relevant talks (read the transcripts of all the talks) and see what is similar.


The third is YouTube, it is a great resource. You’ll find a lot of information there. It will require you to do a little searching, but there is amazing content to curate. 

  • Go to YouTube
  • Add keywords and search → “Two Party Political Systems”


Google is the last one, the fourth one here. Although Google is great, it is also vast. Suppose you put a two-party political system. Generally, you’re going to get a lot of stuff from it. The trick is to add little words at the end that can help you. 

  1. So the first one is about the two-party political system. You’ll see many books when you type them in the search bar. Although I wouldn’t suggest reading the entire book, I recommend seeing if anything interesting might be helpful to you. 
  2. The next step is to Google two-party political system speeches. You will have many lectures that have come up and covered this subject here. 
  3. Lastly, go to, type in two-party IL system, plus add research. You’ll see that a lot of stuff comes up in there. 

Use keywords and add:

  • Books → “Two Party Political System” + Books
  • Speeches → “Two Party Political System” + Speech
  • Research ( → “Two Party Political System” + Research

STEP 3: Capture Intriguing Stories & People 

Third, we’ll begin keeping track of the stories that resonate with us. 

In this stage, you’ll quickly see you have a lot of names already to work with if you’ve started this work. Using just one keyword/phrase and the first layer of digging, this is all we have to go on. The list will quickly grow if you keep doing this. 

Example: The United States of Tech: Can Technology Save Politics?

Podcast Research

  • Ezra Klein
  • Lee Drutman

TED research


  • Vernon Bogdanor
  • Sean Wilentz
  • Yanis Varoufakis


  • Books:
    • James L. Sundquist
    • Joseph Romance and Theodore J. Romance, Joseph Pomper, Gerald Lowi
  • Scholar:
    • William H. Riker

We identified 11 people who could be valuable sources of information.

STEP 4: Write Short Notes (Snippets) About Each Thing You Capture

You don’t need to write the story – just write some notes about it.

We call this “snippet” writing. Snippet writing is the informal writing authors do early in the book development process. We encourage you to keep snippets on the shorter side (50-250 words) and do them frequently. As you begin writing more, these snippets will often turn into longer stories, research, and chapters. There’s no single way to do snippet writing, but here are some examples to guide you.

  • Write whatever comes to your mind, but some common examples of snippets include:
    • Podcasts, YouTube, & Presentation Snippets (notes on interviews, presentations, talks, etc.)
    • Research Driven Snippets (notes on key topics or research on the subject)
    • Personal Story & Moment Snippets (notes on the key moments that matter in your life)
    • Narrative Snippets (notes, ideas, your thoughts)
    • Prior Blogs or Articles Snip (stuff you’ve written already that can be transformed for the book)

And that’s a wrap.

Stories drive great nonfiction books. Most of the best books you’ll read today are filled with insightful, well-written, emotionally-driven stories. You’ve just got to find yours.

It’s not just facts, figures, frameworks, and teachings that matter. Stories make us care, tap into our emotions, and help us learn. That’s why it’s critical to master the art of story gathering when you’re writing a nonfiction book. 

Stories are what lead to exceptional nonfiction books. Find yours!

Eric Koester is the founder and CEO of Creator Institute, a b-corporation whose mission is to inspire, teach and support tomorrow’s creators — authors, podcasters, speakers, entrepreneurs, corporate innovators and course builders. Through his work he’s coached nearly 1,000 first-time creators. He is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Georgetown University and the school’s only two-time entrepreneurship professor of the year, faculty at Growth University, and the executive director of the Intrapreneur Institute, which researches, trains and develops future innovation leaders.

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