Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Research

Researching is an important skill for writers, whether you write fiction or non-fiction. While there are many resources and services available to the writer for research, today I'm just going to talk about doing research on the internet.

The internet is an amazing research tool, but one has to use it very carefully. Since it is unregulated, anyone can post anything, so research can require quite a bit of sifting through the noise.

A good place to start is Wikipedia. Seriously. Most of the time the articles are pretty good and will give you a basic overview of your subject. The thing is, you can't just use Wikipedia. Wiki articles should list references at the end, and those references are also a great place to start delving in deeper. See if any of them are available online or through your local library.

A browser search can net you some interesting results, especially if you are just looking up a word or phrase to find out if it fits your setting. Check several sites to see if they agree with each other, but beware of sites that have the exact same wording as other sites. There are a lot of sites out there that just go out and copy the text from other sites, and therefore do not really count as verification. Similarly, beware of sites that have the exact wording of another site, but with all the adjectives changed.

Don't be afraid to go several pages deep in your browser search. The sites with the best information may be written by folks who don't know very much about SEO (search engine optimization).

Google Book Search is an invaluable tool for the internet researcher, as it gives you access to many books that are no longer available. For example, I was able to find building maps and photographs of a particular site of London's Bedlam asylum in a small press book from the early 1900's through Google Book Search, where I would not have had access to this book through local booksellers or the library system.

Research your sources. Do a search to see if a particular source has reviews or comments from knowledgeable people. Do they think it's a good resource, or do they have criticisms? If a particular source is biased, it may still be worth reading in order to find information that would be worth looking up elsewhere.

Have fun with your research. You never know when you'll come across a great story idea.

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