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It's for a Book

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"How many other women have you semi-stalked in the name of research?"
Kate Beckett (asking Richard Castle if she's his "second"), Castle

Some questions raise eyebrows and suspicions when asked. Questions like "What's the best knife for slitting someone's throat?", "What do you need to make a pipebomb?" or "How would you go about hacking into the FBI's database?".

Occasionally these are things that characters in fiction need to know how to do in order to do what they do. Which means the writers need to consult experts, otherwise overly picky geeks will go onto websites and wikis and complain about how they got their facts wrong.

Luckily this works for characters in fiction too. Bob can ask for suggestion how someone could hide the bodies in his trunk by telling Alice that he's writing a book about a murderer with several bodies in his trunk. Occasionally, she will Pull the Thread on this, and Bob will either come up with a story or have the plot be what actually happened.

Similarly, a High School student can get away with just about anything by claiming "it's for a school project" or "it's part of my homework". This includes acquiring dangerous objects for an art or chemistry class.

Sometimes. Of course, this can be inverted: Bob really was researching for a murder mystery book and becomes a chief suspect when a former friend of his drops dead.

Unfortunately, there are instances in Real Life where people trying to research potentially dangerous or volatile information got investigated, and in some cases arrested, despite the fact that they were actually researching for a book or paper. However, pretending to be researching is also a tried and true Social Engineering tactic, making this an example of Truth in Television (with the variant that information as suspicious as the listed above is usually not requested for obvious reasons: usually Social Engineers ask apparently more harmless tidbits like technical jargon or internal proceedings, so they can impersonate employees more easily). Even authors who hadn't heard about this tactic could probably figure it out since as they did research for their book, people gave them potentially dangerous information without batting an eye. Examples of this can be found in Kevin Mitnick's book The Art Of Deception.

A subtrope of the Bavarian Fire Drill, compare I Have This Friend. Comes up a lot because Most Writers Are Writers. See also Film Felons and We Were Rehearsing a Play, compare to Wild Card Excuse. Compare also I Should Write a Book About This, when the unusual experience comes first and gives someone the idea for a book. When the research shows up clearly in the finished book, that's Shown Their Work.

To avoid the implications of putting dangerously accurate methods in the work, see And Some Other Stuff.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry:
    • Keiichi asks his mother how to go about committing the perfect murder, as he's planning to kill Satoko's abusive uncle. The answer is, "cover it up and have an alibi." You know, the answer that would presumably come to mind immediately.
    • Later, Rika uses a better example of this trope; asking "What would a villain's motivations be and how should the heroine fight back?", claiming that she needs help with the manga she's writing.
  • Schoolwork variant: In Monster, Johan isolates, Mind Rapes, and ultimately kills Richard Braun by claiming he wants to interview him for an essay.
  • Jiraiya from Naruto is always peeking on women in the hot springs in the name of research. Here, this rather perverted "research" really is for a book: Jiraiya is the author of the incredibly popular Makeout Paradise series of erotic novels (the very same that Kakashi enjoys reading).
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Sen Takatsuki manages to score an interview with Amon when she states that she's gathering information for her next book. Instead, she drops hints to him about CCG being involved in a Government Conspiracy. In the anime, she instead interviews Shinohara and asks whether it would be possible to make a Half-Human Hybrid. Of course, in both cases, her true motives have less to do with her next novel and more to do with screwing with them, since she's really the Big Bad and looking to plant the seeds of future plans.
  • In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, Syaoran uses this excuse in one of the worlds to gather information of legends. He got the idea from his father, an archeologist, who used it all the time.

    Comic Books 
  • In Archie Comics, Archie is taking multiple girls at once and getting treated like a king at the fanciest places in town, all because he claims he's writing a book on the best places to have dates and everybody wants to get on his good side. Reggie is responsible for Pulling the Thread by raising the question of who is publishing the book. Archie admits that he can't afford a publisher and will be using a mimeograph machine in his basement. This gets Archie knocked off his pedestal rather unceremoniously, although Betty still considers a night washing dishes to Work Off the Debt and running the mimeograph romantic.
  • DC Comics Golden Age superhero Tarantula got into the superhero business mostly for writing a book about the exploits of "mystery men". In The Golden Age, once his book became successful, he found it very difficult to follow it up with something else.
  • In the Brian Michael Bendis run of Superman, Daily Planet reporter Robinson Goode, secretly also a supervillain, gets her hands on a chunk of Kryptonite as insurance in case Superman corners her. Clark Kent soon uses his X-Ray vision to spot it in her purse (becoming violently ill around her was a pretty big give-away) and asks Batman to swing by to steal it from her. When Batman "asks" her why she's carrying Kryptonite, she claims "It's for an article."
    Goode: You're keeping it?!
    Batman: It can't be on the streets.
    Goode: You're mugging me in an alley!
    Batman: I just made your article more interesting.

    Fan Works 
  • In Adrift in a World Harry ends up in an alternate dimension and asks the Daily Prophet receptionist for back issues, claiming he's writing a book on the history of Dark wizards.
  • In The Boy Who Lived, The Brightest Witch and The Boy Who Wasn't Harry, Hermione and Neville go to the Hogshead to ask ex-Professor Kettleburn about the Black Lake merfolk before the Second Task.
    Neville: Are you sure we're allowed to be in here?
    Hermmione: No, but the Goblin Rebellion of 1612 was based out of this inn. If anything, we'll say we were just doing research for Binns' essay.
  • Famke Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons is sent on the Vimes Run by an irritated Miss Band. Famke decides to research her subject 'thoroughly''. note  She visits the Land Registry and City Planning Archives at the Patrician's Palace and says she is doing a project at school, and could she look up a few records? I have to do a project on how one street in Ankh Morpork has evolved over time, you see, Miss Band wants me to do it by Thursday... and the schoolgirl in her best and neatest School Uniform is allowed to look at plans of drainage ducts and piping underneath Scoone Avenue. As well as plans of Ramkin Manor - admittedly dating from several centuries ago - which give her a hitherto unguarded approach route to Sam Vimes. note . Read more in the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal.
  • In Harry Potter and the Daft Morons Harry needs information on certain Muggle items and manages to convince one over-suspicious PR employee that he's writing a book on the history of the item in question.
  • In Harry Potter and the Hands of Justice Peter requests records of suspected Death Eaters, claiming he's writing a book on the Blood War.
  • Let's Do It Right This Time:
    Harry: Um, do you think Madame Pince would mind if I used the 'gemino' charm on a few pages in 10,000 Spells You Should Never Use? I'm doing a paper.
  • In Intercom, Riley accidentally lets her knowledge of the Mind World slip but covers it up by saying it's a school project on psychology she's working on.
  • In A Learning Experience Hermione calls Bilbury Village Stores and asks which local families have been receiving goods from "fancy London shops," on the pretext of it being for a geography assignment.
  • Averted in The New and Improved Hermione Granger when Hermione claims she needs to buy Veritaserum ingredients for her NEWT Potions project, only to be told that NEWT Potions doesn't teach how to make Veritaserum, by order of the Ministry.
  • Project Sunflower (a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic): When Twilight tries to find out how Sunflower could have been separated from the magic field, she talks to her magical biology professor, claiming to be writing a book.
  • In Sin of Reveal, Kim is writing down coded notes to figure out who's been repeatedly trying to summon Satan and (failing) get him to brutally harm Marinette. When Max checks up on what he's doing, Kim answers that he's working on a horror/mystery script dare from Nino. Max realizes the truth after Satan gets the rest of the class plus associated friends and faculty involved.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Monsters, Inc., Sully and Mike are hiding a human child from their fellow employees. When the employees overhear a heated discussion between Sully and Mike about the kid, they explain that they're writing a "company play", and that the phrase which their coworkers had just overheard was actually the title of the play ("Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me"). Oddly, they end up actually writing that play, and the play is performed at a company function during the movie's closing credits.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Part of the plot of Basic Instinct is that author/suspect Catherine Tramell wrote a book with a murder that matched a real one with chilling accuracy; a second murder then occurs that matches one from a second Tramell book.
  • Played with in Bird Box. Charlie comes up with a theory on what the monsters are, and when it's implied he's just an internet conspiracy theorist he admits it's research he did for a post-apocalyptic novel he intended to write. Later when Charlie is 'volunteered' to go on a supply run, it's suggested he think of it as research for his novel.
  • Used by the main character in Catch Me If You Can, who approaches an airline executive on the pretense of writing a report for school, and in the course of the conversation learns enough pilot jargon to bluff his way through a conversation with actual pilots when riding along in the jump seat.
  • Don't Look Up: In response to a worried pedestrian on the street who overheard Kate telling her boyfriend about the impending doom by the comet, Kate tells her they were talking about a video game.
  • In The Fifth Element, General Munro gets his first look at the reconstructed "Supreme Being" (in the form of a Naked on Arrival Milla Jovovich), and mentions wanting to take some pictures.
    Gen. Munro: I'd uh... Like to take a few pictures.
    [Mactilburgh casts a suspicious look]
    Gen. Munro: For the archives.
  • In For Your Eyes Only, James Bond claims he's writing a novel about smugglers.
  • Gandalf in The Hobbit gives a variation of this as his initial explanation for why they needed the map to be translated by Elrond.
  • In Hollywood Homicide, we briefly see the acting equivalent; a plummy actor (played by Eric Idle) is marched through a police station vehemently insisting that he wasn't soliciting a prostitute, but was doing research for a role. He then briefly says hi to Tina, a lady of the night he presumably has some acquaintance with.
  • Played straight in How to Murder Your Wife, where Jack Lemmon's character is accused of killing his missing wife after people who've sold him gadgets for the comic-strip murder go to the police, who then find the photographs he used to create the strip.
  • Jojo Rabbit: When Imaginary Hitler calls Jojo out for spending so much time with Elsa, the latter claims it's for his book about how to recognize a jew. He does the same schtick at the swimming hall when Klenzendorf gets suspicious of him showing interest in the topic of jews.
  • In Letters to Juliet, Sophie asks if she can tag along to write an article.
  • Subverted in Kevin Smith's Mallrats, where there is a high-school-aged character who has sex with older men (and films it) for a book she is writing. The book is actually published and becomes a best seller.
  • In Militia, a Made-for-TV movie starring Dean Cain, a radical racist group plans to launch a nuclear missile at a city where the President is going to be giving a speech. To this end, they send a few men to a nearby silo, watched over by an old soldier, to scout out the defenses. When questioned, they claim to be filming a movie about a military base and want to use realistic props.
  • In The Movie of On the Town, Claire kissing Ozzie claims "it's for research". Hildy says, "Dr. Kinsey, I presume?"
  • Inverted in Saw 3D, where, after seeing people explaining their own experiences in Jigsaw traps, Bobby uses them to make up his own experience as the theme for a book, down to scarring his own pectorals like the scars of said victims to make it seem more real. The success of the book kickstarts the film's main game, where Bobby is put in an actual trial by Hoffman long after Jigsaw took notice of him.
  • Throw Momma from the Train: Pinsky's book is called 100 Women I'd Like to Pork. His excuse for "whacking material"? "It's a coffee table book."
  • In Transformers, Sam gives this to a school jock as the excuse for why he tried out for the football team (to which he failed hard). He makes it a Stealth Insult by saying the book is filled with big pictures and colouring sections.
  • In You Might Be the Killer, when one of the customers in Chuck's store overhears her talking about the murders at Camp Clear Vista, she claims that she's talking about a creative writing assignment for school.

  • Animorphs:
    • In a book (#6, The Capture), the Animorphs are attempting to prevent the Yeerks from taking a politician when he has surgery at a hospital they control. To find out when he'll be there, Marco calls his office and gets his schedule by claiming to be from the press.
    • This kind of thing happened in real life when writing the books too (mostly by ghostwriters). Laura Battyanyi-Weiss had to look up limited information on Giant Squids when writing #27 The Exposed.
    • Lisa Harkrader, for book #44 The Unexpected, had to research planes, amputation, non-returning (hunting) boomerangs, and Aboriginal life. For the airplane research, she talked to a retired TWA mechanic "to find out how Cassie could get from the cargo hold to the passenger area of a jet." In #51 The Absolute, Lisa also had trouble researching tanks (how to steal and board them), arousing suspicion (and getting nowhere) when she called the army. Eventually a retired Army tank commander named Art Alphin provided Lisa with the info she needed and read over details in the book for accuracy.
    • In book 29, The Sickness, Cassie knows that someone must perform brain surgery on Ax (an alien) to remove his Tria gland. She runs inside her house and tells her veterinarian mom that she's doing a school report on animal brain surgery. "Any books you think might help?"
  • In the book Aquila, the main characters told an archaeologist they were talking to someone in Latin online so they could get help with translating the interface on their spaceship. Later on, when they were trying to figure out how much water was needed to fully refuel the ship, one of them got his dad to do the maths for them, claiming it was for school. Also, one of them keeps the scrapbook on the ship by claiming it for something they're writing. Eventually one of the boys' parents finds the log of everything they have been doing and while the boys think they have been caught out, everybody just thinks that it is a book and bring the trope back to basics.
  • In the Aunt Dimity books, Lori sometimes uses this excuse as an excuse to question people:
    • In Aunt Dimity Digs In, a pamphlet is stolen from the vicarage, and The Vicar and his wife are deeply distressed by the theft. Hoping they may have seen something, Lori questions the owners of the neighbouring cottages by claiming to be doing research for Lilian Bunting's book on the village's history.
    • When Lori and Bree visit a series of large estates in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, they pose as journalists to interview the homeowners. Bree subsequently writes a couple of actual articles and shops them around to make amends for harbouring suspicions about them.
  • The Dark Half, where protagonist Thad Beaumont uses this excuse when asking his coworker Rawlie DeLesseps if sparrows play a role in any kind of American folklore. He even lampshades that one of the benefits of being a professional writer is that you can always rely on this excuse if people want to know why you want certain information.
  • In the Stephen King short story "Dolan's Cadillac", Robinson claims that he's writing a Sci Fi story and asks someone how much dirt the characters would have to excavate in order to trap the alien's vehicle. The person who gives Robinson this information comments something to the effect of "It's funny, the dimensions of that vehicle are almost exactly the same as a Cadillac."
    • King himself had to ask his brother how he'd go about burying a Cadillac and got extensive details (even down to how to hotwire a digger). Of course, King had spent years preparing the alibi of being a best-selling writer by this point. He also claimed (in the author's notes of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, in which this story appears) that details of the crime were changed in the story so that it wouldn't actually work, just in case anyone reading it got ideas.
  • In The Door into Summer when Dan talks to Dr. Twitchell he claims to be doing research for a book called Unsung Geniuses.
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries: In book 1, Georgia calls a former student of Joshua Tay University to ask for information about Allen Reece, another former student, under the pretense that it's for a journalism class assignment. The information she gets confirms what she suspected: Sid is Allen.
  • Played for Drama in the second Dresden Files book, Fool Moon. One of Harry's friends, a low-level practitioner, comes to him with a few idle questions about a ritual that he knows is designed to contain creatures that are both mortal and spirit — in other words, extremely dangerous beings that she has no business trafficking in. Naturally, he doesn't answer and tries to deflect her away from the question. However, she needs the ritual to help contain one of the villains of the book, a powerful werewolf. When she tries to use the ritual anyway, it doesn't work and she ends up dead.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Then there's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in which Tom Riddle (young Lord Voldemort) learns about Horcruxes from a teacher this way.
    • Of course, it's pretty clear that Slughorn knows on some level that Riddle's story is complete bull: asking for info on Horcruxes for "a project" would be akin to a 6th grader asking for information about anal broomstick rape "for homework"... but he plays along anyway because he doesn't want to think badly of or disappoint his star pupil.
    • And several books earlier, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hermione pulled the same trick to get Professor Lockhart's permission to get the book with the directions on how to make Polyjuice Potion from the Restricted Section.
      • Ron points out how pointless it was considering Lockhart didn't even read what they were looking for.
  • Hercule Poirot:
    • Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot is asked to re-investigate a murder that had happened sixteen years earlier. When speaking with some of the witnesses, he claims he is writing a book about famous murders in order to get them to provide written accounts of what they remember.
    • In Third Girl, author surrogate Ariadne Oliver claims to be researching how easy it is to follow someone when following a suspect on behalf of Poirot. She tells the suspect she's concluded it's quite difficult.
  • In the novel of the noir In A Lonely Place, this is the excuse killer Dix Steele gives for asking the detective for details about the stranglings around the city.
  • Inverted in one of the stories in Ken Hornsby's autobiography Is That The Library Speaking?: the librarians become suspicious of a man who takes out books on poisons and legal defence, but it eventually turns out he's a mystery fiction author.
  • Elizabeth's weekend meetings with Jennifer for witchcraft training in Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth is passed off to her family as a semester-long school project.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Johnny observes that it's amazing what grown-ups will let you do if you tell them that you're doing a project.
    If Saddam Hussein had said he was doing a project on Kuwait, the Gulf War would never have happened.
  • Jo actually does research poisons for her horror stories in Little Women, and it's mentioned that she makes librarians suspicious.
  • In Lolita when Mrs. Haze is staying with Humbert Humbert and discovers his diary, he claims that it is actually a fictional account, and he was merely using their names for the characters. She doesn't buy it, but "fortunately" she gets hit by a truck before she can act on her discovery.
  • This trope even shows up in The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo and his companions arrive at the inn in Bree, they realize they're going to need a plausible explanation for their wandering out of the Shire — so Frodo claims to be a historian who's thinking of writing a book about the relationship between the Shire and Bree. Two volumes later, as they're returning home through Bree, Frodo is asked if he's written his book yet. He says he's still getting his notes in order. He wasn't completely lying - like Bilbo before him, Frodo recorded the story of the characters in the Red Book, which was then passed down through generations of hobbits.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey:
    • The novel Strong Poison uses the inverted version: Harriet really is writing a murder mystery, and purchases arsenic to see how hard she should make it for her poisoner to get some. Then her ex-lover turns up dead of arsenic poisoning, for completely unrelated reasons, so naturally she's Wrongly Accused of killing him.
    • Before that, in the earlier novel Unnatural Death, Lord Peter Wimsey bugs his friend, Home Office pathologist Sir James Lubbock, for the name of a Perfect Poison.
  • There's a Nancy Drew book where a crook is using this as cover for casing peoples' houses.
  • In the Frederick Forsyth novel The Negotiator, Quinn, the title character, wants a place where he can write down the events that have happened in the novel and send them to his FBI girlfriend, so he rents a cabin in Canada. Given the fact it's the middle of winter, the real estate agent is suspicious, until Quinn says he needs the peace and quiet to write a book, which the real estate agent accepts because, "People make allowances for writers, as they do for all lunatics."
  • In P.D. James's Original Sin, the villain finds out on whom he needs to take revenge for things that happened decades ago, by pretending he's doing research for a novel called Original Sin.
  • A variant in The Overstory: When police discover a true account that he wrote of events that involve committing serious crimes, Douglas claims he was just writing a novel.
  • The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull: During Johnny's trip to Vinalhaven Island, Maine, he and his friends stop in the local library to do research, trying to find something that'll lead them to the answers they need so they can find and rescue Professor Childermass. Father Higgins' excuse to the librarian, when he asks her for pamphlets, guidebooks, and pencil and paper to take notes with, is that he's writing a book on the Maine seacoast.
  • The acknowledgements page of To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure has Ryan North thanking Metafilter for giving him advice on how to dispose of a dead body, and then also thanking the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for not getting him in trouble for making searches like 'gross dead body +how to hide it' and 'what if I committed the murder act, how do I ditch the body & not go to jail IT'S AN EMERGENCY??'
  • This is toyed with in the Gold Eagle series Track. The main character, Dan Track, is a consultant to action writers on getting guns right and writing convincing combat. He is good at this because he owns a lot of guns and slaughters about a hundred guys per book (in justified shootouts, naturally).
  • Villains by Necessity: After suffering through intense Clothing Damage throughout the adventure, Sam is forced to have his Assassin's Guild uniform mended by a tailor. When the conspicuously villainous outfit naturally attracts questions, he claims it's a costume for a play (specifically this world's version of Hamlet).
  • In the novel Wilt, by Tom Sharpe, Wilt claims he was researching murder methods which led up to people believing he murdered his wife.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 30 Rock, Liz Lemon allows someone to use her personal computer, adding "Okay, but if you look at my internet history, I'm researching a movie about two male centaurs kissing."
  • Simon used "It's for a school paper" to get information on baby safe haven laws on 7th Heaven (which didn't fool anyone).
  • Face and Triple A used this tactic to obtain some ridiculous props (such as a small airplane) and funding from the Mexican Film Bureau in an episode of The A-Team.
  • One episode of Boston Legal had a woman ask for details on how to commit a crime, then added the phrase "for a book" after Alan Shore said he'd have to call the cops.
  • In Breaking Bad, when Skyler thinks that Walt is smoking pot, she asks Marie about how could it affect someone, claiming that it's for a short story she's writing. Marie doesn't fall for it, but she thinks it's Walt Jr. who is smoking pot.
  • On Bruiser, there was a running-gag sketch where a rather high-strung man (played by Robert Webb) came into shops asking less-than-innocent questions about what sort of, say, poisons you'd have, for rats, a large rat, a woman-sized rat, say....
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Earshot", the Scooby Gang pretend to interview teachers and students for the yearbook at Sunnydale High to find out the identity of a potential gunman. "Hi, Mr. Beach. I was just wondering if you were planning on killing a bunch of people tomorrow? Oh, it's for the yearbook."
    • And the profiles turn out so interesting that they end up actually being used in the yearbook.
    • And they also claim to be in the school "archaeology club" to explain their sudden interest in Incan mummies to someone that they assume is a muggle. ( Turns out she's the mummy.)
    • "Rehearsing a play" tends to be used if a Muggle catches the Buffy heroes talking about demons and monsters.
  • This is pretty much the premise of Castle. The title character, a best-selling mystery writer is — ostensibly — tagging along with detective Kate Beckett in order to do research for his new series of crime novels, Nikki Heat.
    • In one episode, Castle tells a thief he wants the details of a break-in in order to get the details right in his book. He really wanted the information the thief had in order to catch a murderer, and pretending it was for a book got the thief to open up.
    • Also inverted when a method actress hired to play the Beckett Captain Ersatz Nikki Heat not only dresses and acts like Beckett (to the annoyance of the latter and the joy of Castle seeing two Becketts) but also tries to sleep with Castle in order to properly play the romance between Nikki and Rook (Castle's Author Avatar). She even goes so far as to ask Beckett for help in seducing him.
    • Toward the end of Season 3, Castle's mother points out he has more than enough material for several books; he's clearly not doing it for professional reasons anymore. To be honest, he was never really in the first place — which falls squarely under this trope: it was a convenient excuse.
  • One episode of the show Cheaters featured a man who used this excuse after being caught with a hooker.
  • On Friends, Chandler leaves Ross's baby on the bus and has to call the Transportation Department to get it back. Rather than admit he left the baby behind, however, he tells the operator it's for his book. "Yes, that would be a stupid character."
  • Done well in Home and Away: Belle is kidnapped by Dom, an unstable stalker who thinks she's in love with him. After her boyfriend Drew rescues her, he ends up running Dom over while trying to escape. Weeks later, Dom is in hospital from an infection he received because he didn't get treatment for his injury. Drew panics at the possibility that Dom could press charges, and has his friend Lucas, a writer, consult Morag, a former judge, for legal advice. Lucas gives her the scenario, under the guise of writing a book — "Wolf Creek meets Puberty Blues", — and relays the information to Drew. There is no indication that Morag knows the truth.
  • On Journeyman, Dan calls a physics professor to ask about Time Travel, saying it's for a book he's writing. The professor obviously knew more about Dan's predicament than he was letting on but the series was canceled before it was revealed.
  • Inverted in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The guy in question really was an actor trying to get into the head of his character, a serial killer, but he turned out to have some repressed trauma in his past relating to his own mother's murder, and his "character research" pushed him over the edge to where he became a killer for real.
  • Merlin:
    • The title character once claimed that he needed a book for "homework"... and appears to be believed, despite this being both illogical and anachronistic (though also rather amusing).
    • It's inverted in a later episode, after Merlin gives Arthur some startlingly good advice, and on being asked how he's so knowledgeable, tells him "I read a book."
  • On Mr & Mrs Murder Charlie and Nicola pass off their interest in the dose at which ketamine becomes fatal as being for a book.
  • Jessica Fletcher will sometimes use this trope, or let people think she's using it, to get closer to murder investigations in Murder, She Wrote.
  • On MythQuest, Alex and Cleo use "it's for a school project" excuse anytime they need information about a myth from someone who isn't in on their secret.
  • Used by the villains in the episode "Dirty Bomb" of NUMB3RS. They contacted a researcher for a nuclear company for information about a particular radioactive isotope, claiming they were doing research for a movie script. Because the series takes place in LA, the researcher didn't give it much thought until she saw an internal Department Of Energy alert warning that three caskets of the isotope had been stolen, suddenly providing a very different reason why some random citizens would have been looking for information on how to handle it. Her cooperation was a key component in finding the identities of the criminals.
  • Odyssey 5. The protagonists consult a cantankerous sci-fi writer (an obvious Harlan Ellison expy) on the events of the series, claiming it's for a sci-fi novel. He criticizes the numerous scientific errors in statements clearly based on internet fan criticism of the pilot episode.
  • In Open Heart, Dylan walks in on her father frantically searching through newspaper clippings and "looking for patterns". He claims it's for his novel.
  • Referenced in Peep Show, when Jeremy is attending an interview for a cleaning job and tries to secure the position by claiming to find cleaning out plug-holes "interesting" (he desperately wants the job so he can stalk his ex-girlfriend). The interviewer seems baffled as to why anyone would seem so enthusiastic about cleaning, and asks if Jeremy is researching for a novel or something. Not wanting to seem over-qualified, Jeremy replies: "What's a novel?"
  • Saturday Night Live has this gem from fictional presidential candidate Tim Calhoun: "I have touched many pages in my life... because I am a voracious reader... of child pornography... studies. Illustrated studies."
  • In The Sentinel, Blair is supposedly following Jim around because he's doing a dissertation on the applications of social anthropology to police work.
  • In Spaced, at one point Tim and Daisy get into an argument during which Daisy's procrastination and laziness is brought up. One of the ways that Tim lays into her is by mocking her standing in front of a bedroom mirror "bogling to Aswad!" all weekend instead of doing anything useful, to which Daisy wails in response that it was "research". Later, however, after tempers have cooled and friendships reconciled, Daisy reveals she's sold an article about bogling to a magazine, prompting Tim to remark in surprise that her dancing actually was research.
  • In Supernatural, Dean and Sam have sometimes gotten information by pretending to be journalists, though have stopped doing it in favor just pretending to be FBI agents.
  • The Umbrella Academy (2019): In episode 8, Allison convinces a cop to let her tag along on a police investigation by claiming she's researching the role of a small-town cop. Slightly more believable than most examples since she is a famous actress, but the officer is still skeptical about why she'd be doing her research in such a quiet town.
  • Veronica Mars
    • Veronica used "it's an assignment for health class" (or some variant thereof) to cover all kinds of activities, including collecting a DNA sample from her dad. Somewhat justified in that she's a good actress and usually plans out her requests beforehand instead of making them up on the spot.
    • The series actually inverts it in the third season. The final assignment from Veronica's former FBI agent criminology professor? A paper on how you'd commit the perfect murder. When the Dean ends up dead in a manner that copies elements from Veronica's paper, she is seriously wigged.
  • On an episode of Worlds Worst Tenants, a landlord was caught peeping through spy cameras he'd installed in female tenants' bathrooms. When he was busted for it on camera, he claimed (out of desperation) that it was this trope. Unsurprisingly, nobody fell for it.
  • You (2018): In season 4 Joe finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery and tries to familiarize himself with the genre. When discussing whodunnits with a student he justifies his interest as a writing project. He has a better excuse than most due to being a literature professor.

  • In one episode of Car Talk, one of the calls was from a novelist asking the hosts for advice on how a heroine could temporarily disable the villains' car such that she could later put it back together. Presumably she was telling the truth, since it's not clear why anyone would need that information in real life, at least not with enough advance notice to call in to a talk show.
  • Ford Prefect is a field correspondent for the latest edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) who rescues his Earth friend Arthur Dent before the Vogons destroy the Earth. When Ford and Arthur are captured aboard a Vogon ship and are taken to be cast off in space, Ford vehemently protests that they're trying to write a book.

    Tabletop Games 
  • It's been commented that the internet search history for any good, detail-oriented Game Master, especially ones running games like Shadowrun or The World of Darkness, should instantly land said Game Masters on government watch lists.
    • That was actually parodied in a late 2011 issue of Knights of the Dinner Table when the main group is running a Call of Cthulhu game with themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Lampshaded when the Homeland Security agent in charge of that night's shift recognizes the IP address as coming from gamer-heavy Muncie, Indiana and calls off the team.

  • In an Older Than Steam case of The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples, this trope shows up in Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The Obviously Evil Queen asks the court physician, Cornelius, to brew for her an extremely deadly and painful poison. When he questions why she would want something like that, she offers the excuse that she plans to test it on animals and create an antidote based on treating its effects. Since Cornelius is not an idiot, he doesn't actually create the requested poison but instead gives her a compound that will cause the victim to have initial discomfort and fall into a death-like sleep but wake up healthy.
  • In Fangirls, Edna gets her online friend Salty to help her plot Harry's abduction by telling him it's for a fanfic she is writing.

    Video Games 
  • Cragne Manor: If you ask Bethany why she has the "lion sex book", she tells you it might give her a hint as to the history of the author's disappearance, even though she feels it's unlikely. But she does admit that the lion sex is well-written. If you read it, too, you can have a conversation with her about it.
  • In The Darkside Detective, McQueen has watched the movie Ghost a lot, which he insists was research for professional reasons.
  • In Fahrenheit, Lucas claims to be a reporter writing a story about Mayan antiques and their relation to ritual sacrifice to get information out of a visiting expert. It's seen through almost instantly, though.
  • In Paper Mario 64, in the 7th-chapter murder mystery, this trope is inverted, with one of the suspects being a suspect in part because he writes murder mysteries (he's a penguin called Herringway).
  • Used by Dahlia Hawthorne in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations. When asked what a literature student was doing in the basement of a courthouse she responds that she was doing research for a paper she was writing. Actually she was there being questioned by an attorney on suspicion of a murder, and she used the opportunity to poison him.
  • In Scratches, the protagonist tries to get information about the mystery he is investigating by calling the retired police officer responsible for the case and pretending to be a reporter writing about famous murder cases.

  • In an early EGS:NP storyline, Susan and Sarah are in a bookstore and Susan hears Sarah comment on wanting a book with naked people in common poses. When confronted, Sarah explains that she wants to improve the quality of her art, and that in order to draw a clothed human figure accurately, you first have to learn to draw a nude human figure.
    • In another EGS:NP storyline, "Marked" Pandora disguised herself as a college student doing a survey for a psychology project as a means of detecting what kind of spells she could secretly give them with magic marks. Results were mixed, including whether or not she could give them what they asked for.
  • I Want To Be A Cute Anime Girl: Delilah, worried about Cheryl's situation with trying to come out as trans, asks her friends a hypothetical question about how they'd react if she said she wanted to be a boy. When confronted about it, she responds with this as she doesn't want to out Cheryl to them.
  • Subverted in Misfile. After asking Vash about sneaking into Heaven, Rumisiel is worried he's totally disappointed his brother. As a way of making amends, he says the information was for a book... "about a really stupid brother who says even stupider stuff", falling back on Self-Deprecation rather than seriously trying to make an excuse.
  • An unintentional variation in this xkcd, where a program to order random stuff online ends up selecting a length of rubber hose, a ski mask, a bear trap, a map of the Pentagon, and lube. The program is then terminated to avoid triggering "every FBI watch list ever".

    Web Original 
  • Behind The Veil has an interesting version combined with a cover-up; to hide the fact that a wererat was seen bursting through several university walls and the side of a trailer (not to mention running over any student in the way), the Technocracy ended up creating an elaborate cover-up to pass it off as a marketing stunt gone wrong for an upcoming film. Then again the story was boosted with magic specifically to kill the idea that it was an actual wererat.
  • Marble Hornets season 2: When a passerby at the hotel Jay woke up in asks why he has a camera strapped to his body, he explains that he's shooting a documentary...about hotels. Turns out later she didn't really believe him.
  • Not Always Right has a story about a woman calling a gas station and asking if the person answering the call knows about guns, as she's writing a novel about them.
  • RWBY: Weiss manages to get a hold of some sensitive corporate documents from the Schnee Corporation by claiming that she needs them for a school project. The fact that she is, in fact, the company's heiress causes the secretary to release the documents without much fuss.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Family Guy, Stewie (using mind control) tries to use Chris to buy a "hand-operated buzzsaw capable of cutting through a human sternum". The store clerk gives him a funny look and Stewie makes Chris say, "It's for project! I need it for...blast, what the devil do these kids study...Latin class!"
  • In Monkey Dust, the Paedofinder General is in one episode caught with an extremely large amount of child pornography on his own computer. He brushes it off as being "for research".
  • In the Ready Jet Go! episode "Solar System Bake-Off", Mitchell sneaks into Jet's house to gather info on Mindy's baking contest entry. He writes down some information in his notebook. When Sydney asks what he's writing in there, Mitchell says its for a cookbook. Or a blog. Or webisodes.
  • The Simpsons: In "Milhouse of Sand and Fog", Homer has painted a face on his belly and shoves a pizza slice into the "mouth". When Homer notices Bart witnessing this, he claims "I'm doing this for work."

    Real Life 
  • A typical handwave for aspiring graffiti artists at a hardware store is "It's for a school art project"/"We're renovating".
    • Many experienced hardware store employees can still tell if your intention is to deface something, as a legitimate art or renovation project would also purchase primer, something most graffiti artists would skip.
  • Some people have noted that you can get away with anything on the LiveJournal community little_details by prefacing your query with: "I'm writing a story where..."
    • The same goes for the Plot Realism Forum on Nanowrimo's website. Here someone asked how many bottles a blended five-year-old would fill. Wayback Machine archive. There was some disagreement on just how much a 5-year old would weigh and whether the child should be cooked first, but most said somewhere between 20 and 40 liters. The closest thing to an expert (someone who tried it with a duck) thought that a fifty-pound child would take ten quarts.
    • Another thread had someone asking how much jello it would take to fill up the White House. It quickly devolved into a discussion of which flavor would be best.
    • The trope is often referenced in the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange site, where authors and creators ask these kind of questions. Questions like "Where in Europe can I detonate 100 kt (non-nuclear) not to harm anyone?" [1] get comments like "You're so getting flagged by your ISP for posting this. Seems like you're onto a good story though".
    • There was also, famously, another discussion on how many koalas it would take to fill a Tokyo subway car. That one got revamped a couple of years running and was more for fun than for real. There was, however, quite a bit of serious discussion about whether the koalas were flattened, crated, alive, dead, and male or female, and if the subway car had seats in it or not. If female, an interesting tangent developed about whether or not they were pregnant, since pregnant koalas are more likely to need their personal space, and what might happen if one (or all) of said pregnant koalas gave birth on the train. The answer was something like 1500 koalas, based on the volume of the car and the average volume of a koala.
  • Also used by people posing as journalists in many media to get information. "I'm working on an article..."
  • David Hahn, the "radioactive boy scout", used this excuse to pick up large amounts of information, which he used to create a nuclear reactor. Of course, he was doing it because he enjoyed his nuclear merit badge project so much.
  • One careless murderer left all his murder plans on a floppy disk, which was confiscated by investigators. Given how closely the details he'd written matched the actual murder, the "it's for a book!" defense fell flat.
  • According to legend, in the early 1950s Japanese police arrested two men who were in a restaurant discussing how to destroy Tokyo. They were the director and producer of what would become the original Gojira movie. The commentary track on the Gojira DVD says that the police showed up when some of the production team were up on top of a building in downtown Tokyo, discussing which of the other buildings in sight they wanted to "destroy", but no one actually got arrested (the book Japan's Favorite Mon-Star cites that they were allowed to go after they showed the police their Toho business cards).
  • Crime author Ian Rankin once returned from an isolated cottage in the Scottish hills and requested to speak to a Police Officer about several 'plot points' for his story. Questions such as: police procedure in child abduction/murder cases, sentence lengths, etc. Unbeknownst to him a young girl had been kidnapped and murdered earlier that week — and here was a quite scruffy man 'researching' about a very similar topic. Unsurprisingly, he was questioned.
  • Author K.A. Applegate got very annoyed answers from the military because of questions she asked about the build of tanks, airplanes, and an aircraft carrier.
  • There was a Nick game show at one point that required kids to go to various public places and (with the aid of a hidden camera) get people to do various ridiculous actions (eat bugs, wear silly hats, etc.) The usual explanation was something like "We're doing a school project".
  • When Winona Ryder was busted for shoplifting, she claimed she was just doing research for a role. No one bought it for a second.
  • After being caught accessing child pornography, British comic Chris Langham claimed it was in preparation for a role. He was convicted and sentenced to ten months imprisonment (later reduced to six) at trial, and the appeal judge remarked that his explanation was "highly improbable".
  • Similarly, Pete Townshend of The Who claimed he was doing research for a book after being caught accessing a site that provided links to child pornography (although he apparently cancelled his access immediately afterwards, and thus never downloaded any actual porn). The main problem was that it was a pay site, and he'd used his credit card to access it. The officials basically said "It's not a question of whether he was doing this for a book or not, so much that he gave these people money."
  • A surprising number of men on Dateline: To Catch A Predator have claimed that their intention was not to have sex with the girl or boy but to teach them about the dangers of talking to strangers online, or that they walked into a stranger's house in the middle of the night to research the housing market. Of course, their story is Swiss cheese once the host reveals he has a copy of the chat logs and that is definitely not what the suspect talked about.
  • In his book Shark Life, Peter Benchley notes he once asked his father which end of a shark would float were it cut in half.
    "What're you up to?"
    "Trying to tell a story about a shark."
    "That's some shark."
  • On the commentary track for Saw, Leigh Whannell mentions how, early in the scriptwriting, he asked a doctor which drug was best to use if you wanted a person to be unable to move, but still be conscious and able to feel pain.
    "He was suspicious."
  • The customer in this Not Always Right entry is probably on the level. It would be far weirder if she wasn't.
  • John Rogers, showrunner and co-creator of Leverage, recently wrote in a post-game of an episode:
    For all you Spec-Monkeys out there: never be afraid to call someone. A very nice lady from the Boston PD Public Relations Department spent a good hour with us on the phone explaining how evidence is stored and transferred in the Boston PD systemnote ...Then, we got some vague answers from bank-alarm companies about the protocols for bank alarms and how police deal with cross-referencing the answers we got from the companies to fill in the blanks, we got a very good sense of how these things go down. At which point Boylan and I, who were the ones working on the script (the rest of the room had moved on to #310), realized we should totally go rob a bank.
  • Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files, once asked an aquarium worker what would happen if someone were to break the glass of one of the exhibits. He later reported that he caused this worker (and others) a great deal of distress with this question.
  • Tom Clancy:
    • When writing books about warfare and nuclear subs and such, Clancy often asked for info. He was once stunned when he was sent piles of information and parts bordering on classified, expecting instead to be brushed off. He even mentions, in the afterword for The Sum of All Fears, being able to get manuals for the equipment used by the US government for manufacturing nuclear weapons, just by writing requests.
    • When The Hunt for Red October was published, he was asked who had given him classified information. The subsequent investigation revealed that a lot of the "classified technology" was primarily extrapolation from non-classified sources that was, for the government, uncomfortably close to accurate.note 
    • In the writer's commentary on The Sum of All Fears, Clancy describes how he was allowed by the air force to see a Stealth bomber, but not to touch it, since "Maybe they were afraid I could tell how the stealth worked by feeling it?" note 
  • On a similar note Stanley Kubrick was briefly investigated by the Air Force for the depiction of the interior of a B-52 bomber in Dr. Strangelove, paying special concern to the cockpit. When asked how he got such an accurate set, Kubrick replied that the crew looked at photos of a B-29's interior and scaled them up.
  • Cassandra Clare has had an opportunity to do this.
  • The reference desk on The Other Wiki sees "it's for a book"-type questions from time to time. Some are more believable than others.
  • Absolute Write has a story research forum for writers that allows writers to get answers to all kinds of very specific questions they need answered for their writing.
  • Interesting fact: If you knock on someone's front door, are/pretend to be an architecture student, and say that you just happened to be passing by and thought their house looked interesting and could you perhaps come inside and look around/take some pictures for a school project, then chances are the people who live there will actually let you inside their house even though you are a complete stranger.
  • A question that comes up frequently in real-life Masters of Library Science exams is the question of whether or not you assist a patron that's looking for information on something questionable (like forensics), or illegal (building bombs).
  • In 1990, the US Secret Service raided the Austin offices of Steve Jackson Games as part of a crackdown on computer hackers, one of whom was writing a cyberpunk supplement for an SJG role-playing game. The company sued the Secret Service and won $50,000 in damages and $250,000 in costs.
  • In 2005, John Stanley explained to a judge that he had robbed a bank to research the criminal mind. Funny thing is, he wasn't lying. He'd been in and out of prison for various crimes since the 1960s, plus got nine more years for the latest robbery. At the same time, he was a successful consultant, author, and presenter on criminal topics. Apparently being incarcerated gives him time to work.
  • J. Eifie Nichols, author of The Radiant Dawn, sent an email to Northrop-Grumman, the manufacturer of the Nimitz class carrier, inquiring about the diameter of the hangar lift cables for the hangar lifts to the flight deck. The answer from Northrop-Grumman? "That's classified."
  • Inverted with the War Thunder fandom, who have repeatedly leaked classified military information to win arguments on the game's forums.