1. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    research 101

    Discussion in 'Research' started by mammamaia, Dec 19, 2013.

    since the glut of threads asking fellow members to provide info on this or that could easily be avoided by the poster doing a bit of work on his/her own, i think it's time to sticky a tutorial on the subject of research in general and 'creative googling' [if there isn't one up there somewhere already]... i'll leave it to the powers-that-be here to sticky it or not...

    research basics

    best sources:
    google
    amazon
    public library
    Library of Congress

    creative googling

    first of all, a google search takes a split second to return relevant sources of the info you asked for, versus the hours or days it takes to get replies that may or may not be relevant, to a 'please will someone find it for me?' thread...

    so, in addition to getting more accurate/relevant info faster by googling, you'll have saved others the time and trouble it took them to get it for you, as well as being able to be proud of yourself for mastering the art of doing one's own research, which is what all writers must do at one time or another...

    here's how to do it and not get page after page of irrelevant sources and 'maybes' that don't have the info you need:

    rule 1. use " " to zero in on what it is you need to find... if you just google for 'the way tiffany lamps are made' you're going to get hits on every site/page with 'the' and 'way' and each of the other words on it... making it hard to impossible to find the info you really want...

    rule 2. BE SPECIFIC!... if you want to know how tiffany lamps are made, don't google for "the way tiffany lamps are made"... simplify and specificize [is that a word, or did i just coin a new one?] it down to, "tiffany lamp construction"...

    rule 3. make use of google images as well as the basic web search... googling for "tiffany lamp construction" there will provide you with diagrams, as well as text, if you click on an image and then the 'visit page' option...

    rule 4. if searching for how things were in an earlier age, googling for a 'timeline' can be very helpful and aid you in narrowing down the decade or even year you need to google for...

    amazon

    using the 'advanced search' option, you can find books that might have the info you need...

    thanks to the many 'look inside this book' listings, you can check the table of contents to see if what you need may be there...

    reviews will give you more info on the contents...

    the 'customers who bought this item also bought' feature will point you to other potential sources...

    if you find books that can help, you can buy them used from the amazon site... often for only pennies plus shipping... or, can call your local library and see if they're there or can be ordered from another library, for you to borrow...

    public library

    yes, there are still human librarians who tend to real, honest to gosh, 3-D books... and there is almost always a 'reference librarian' on the premises you can speak to in the flesh, or by telephone, who will answer your questions and find books that have the info you need...

    you can request books they don't have on the premises and they'll be sent from another library and held for you...

    if you actually go to the library, you can find what you need with the computerized 'card catalog' that now does the job of those old hangnail-giving, tightly-packed index cards in row upon row of little wooden drawers...

    if all that fails:

    Library of Congress
    www.loc.gov

    here, you can do a search, or contact your taxes-paying reference librarian for more in-depth info and lists of resources with the 'ask a librarian' service: http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/

    and, for you UKers out there, there's:

    The British Library
    http://www.bl.uk/

    [ditto above re LOC]

    for you fellow members from other parts of the world, your own country's library system...

    well, folks, that's all i can think of at the moment... please weigh in on anything i may have missed, or ask questions about anything here i didn't explain well enough... hope it's helpful...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, THANK YOU MAIA for starting this thread, and I beg the mods to stick it to this forum as a key reference!

    I would recommend adding personal visits high on the list of best sources. This can be a physical visit to a location, or live Q&A with an expert on the subject. For example, if you have a question about police procedure, go ask someone in your local police department. Yes, they are busy people, but a polite request is still often appreciated, especially for a professional who feels his or her profession is ignored or demonized.

    But practice your people skills first. Above all, use your ears more than your mouth. Don't try to impress the professional with how much you already know, they'll bbe moreimpressed with intelligent questions. And that means, do your online research first, so your questions can be surgical in precision.

    In visiting a location, focus on picking up what you cannot get from Internet searches Sounds and scents, the pace of life, how friendly are people to one another and to strangers.
     
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  3. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    My favorite Googling tip: searching "subject of interest" can get a lot of prevalent yet false information, not just the correct information that takes a lot of specialized side-research to understand. Unless you're already an expert, it can be hard to tell the difference, and if you are already an expert, why are you using Google? ;)

    Searching "misconceptions about subject of interest," on the other hand, tends to get you to the people who've put in the effort of both looking at what most people think AND why the experts would or would not agree, so you'll generally get better context for everything.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013
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  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd add "area of interest" websites - eg, I looked for sites run by/for current/former military snipers and contacted the owner(s). Not only did I get great responses to my questions, I got additional resources (human and otherwise). But whether through the web or in person (per Cog), connecting with people who actually do what you need to know about is almost a must if you want accurate information.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good 'adds'

    keep the tips coming, folks!
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    One thing often sought is details about a particular period. For the 20th century at least, one good source is a decent-sized public library. From newspaper archives, you can get day to day information like prices of common items (from ads), day to day issues of interest (front page stories vs back page filler), editorials, etc. Don't overlook magazines, either: People, Life, Time, US News and World Report, Vogue, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Consumer Reports...

    To get a broader view, consider the Yearbook supplements to Encyclopedias.

    Some of these archives may be available on the Internet, but I think there's still value in actually visiting the library and doing some serious browsing. Think of it as a treasure hunt.
     
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  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Can I also just add, when I'm researching anything, I tend to look for the same answers in multiple places as well as googling. And, if I google, I will take the time to check three or four sites against each other. You can also ask people who have experienced what you are writing about (obviously I'm not talking about fantasy fiction et al). I have had lots of conversations with various professionals regarding foreign languages, medical issues and horticultural issues.

    Also, don't be afraid to ask the big organisations out there. I wanted to check something out about the FBI. After spending three days searching, I still had no answer so I went back to their website for another look. What I found is a section of the FBI dedicated to answering questions and queries from authors, producers, scrip writers, film makers etc. All they ask is that you email them your query along with the answers to a few questions (such as who you are, what you are working on, what information you are after etc) and they will get back to you. They got back to me within two days! They answered part of my question and furnished me with further links to find the rest of the answers I was looking for.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    My best friend is a librarian, and she says there is lots of information available online which allows you to bypass Google. Google is the most-used search engine, and certainly where to start, but it's also heavy with commercial advertising and where-to-buy information which can muddy the waters a lot.

    Some of the more academic and more detailed 'pure' information can be found on other search engines. I'll see if I can find a list of these other search facilities, and add them to this post later on.

    Okay, here's a list, for starters: http://www.thesearchenginelist.com/

    And here's another extensive list: http://www.teachthought.com/technology/100-search-engines-for-academic-research/

    I'll keep looking, and I've just emailed my librarian friend. If she gets back to me, I'll add her information here, too. She is a head high school librarian, so she's used to directing students towards rooting out specific information related to studies, while keeping the information readable and accessible. I value her opinion.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    By the way, I agree that this is an excellent thread to 'sticky,' as it really is basic to research. Much of what gets asked in this section IS something which could easily be found in online searches.

    What this section is valuable for is for personal experience. Any member with specific experience who wants to reply to a question can really help other writers. These people become primary sources, and anybody who does research for fiction writing knows how invaluable this kind of insight can be.

    Maybe somebody has lived in a particular place, and knows what it's like to live there, or has gone through a particular medical procedure and understands the various emotional stages connected with it, or knows how to speak a particular foreign language and can translate idoms, or works with horses and understands how to communicate with them—this kind of thing. These personal perspectives might NOT appear in any online search, but can greatly enrich a story.

    But if the researcher is merely asking factual questions about things like Henry VIII's wives, or dates of battles, or symptoms of breast cancer, or what to feed your hamster ...this is all stuff that's easily discovered via an online search. Thus @mammamaia 's thread is well worth a sticky.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  10. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    What's the Dewey Decimal System? :rolleyes:

    I wonder how many people 18 and under know what that is.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I do think most users of physical libraries in the English speaking world have come across it, including modern kids in schools. It's not so much a way to classify books, it's how to classify books ON SHELVES.

    There has been a recent school of thought that thinks it's better to classify in libraries the way they do in bookstores—by general topics alone, listed alphabetically under author's names. But anybody who has browsed for a particular specific subject in a bookstore, rather than just browsing general topics or looking for a specific author, will know just how dodgy this system can be.

    For example, in two bookstores in Inverness, a work of fiction (An Abridged History, by Andrew Drummond) which is an alternative history of the Ullapool area—the story's main event, the rail connection, never happened at all—was located at Waterstones AND the now-defunct James Thin, in their Non-Fiction section headed Local Interest.

    The person responsible for stocking their shelves obviously read the title and assumed it was non-fiction and plopped it in the wrong place. So much for non-standardised classification.

    When this mistake was pointed out, one of the two bookstores immediately relocated the book. The other refused to do so!

    The Dewey system works/worked because it was standardised. That's not to say another system might not work just as well, but the Dewey system is still in use, so anybody who uses a library will be familiar with it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thank you.
    Those are two of the most useful references I ever seen. One of my concerns with Google and Bing is how often the algorithm and/or the commercialization thwarts my attempts to find things I'm looking for.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Here is what my librarian friend just wrote to me, regarding search engines:

    .................................

    As for search engines, I'll share what I teach the students. There are thousands of search engines. Just type "search engines" into a Google box and take a look at what Wikipedia or Yahoo brings back - lists of search engines broken down by subject interest - jobs, people, etc. There are some created just for students like Sweet Search, and IPL (internet public library ) has results chosen by librarians.

    But none of the search engines - even Google as good as it is - can search the entire Net!!!! I use Google and sometimes Wolfram Alpha - take a look at it.

    Anyway none of the search engines can even see the Deep Web - that's where the databases of articles, prof journals, newspapers, transcripts and other videos, podcasts and websites are. Databases are usually subscription based, someone is paying for them. We have access to a whole suite of databases through the Library of Michigan, you can see here mel.org .

    Academic research may be published in some professional journals that may be included in specific databases, that may be included in databases offered to libraries or universities. Basically, it very often is not free. Users have to get access from some agency that is paying because they are very expensive. And even then working with the databases can be annoying depending on how good their interior indexing and search tools are. And you need to remind them everything is not on the Internet. (You know this because of all the work you had to do with museums and historical societies.)

    I also suggest having Google look just at the .org or .gov or even .edu to narrow their search results. You can do by using advanced search options on Google or using operator searches in the Google search box. Your friends might want to look at some Google tutorial or educational materials - to really learn how to make Google understand what you are looking for - and how to eliminate the results you don't want.

    And check out your public library to see if they have access to some password protected, expensive databases.

    ...................................

    Good stuff, if you're after really specific information. I'm away to check out Wolfram Alpha now.
     
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  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Wolfram Alpha? Isn't that what mathematicians/scientists/engineers use to solve math problems?
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that appears to be the case. Everything I put into the search engine came up with calculations. However, if calculations are what you're looking for, this is obviously the site. If you're wondering how Vikings made fur cloaks ...probably not...
     
  16. cynthia_1968
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    cynthia_1968 Active Member

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    From my experience, Google and Wikipedia are my best friends when it comes to background research. For my story, which took place in Boston, I had to search for a lot of historical background information that I wanted to use.

    I've never been in Boston so online research - together with Google maps - was a great tool to put fiction and facts together, giving my story more layers.

    I hope to visit Boston one day, though.... ;)
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In researching for my historical, I was very careful in how I used Wikipedia - usually as a starting point or for confirmation. If you're going to use Wikipedia at all, you need to remember it is NOT an authoritative source. It is user-produced and user-edited, unlike traditional encyclopedia which are professionally written and edited.
     
  18. cynthia_1968
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    cynthia_1968 Active Member

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    Yeah, I know EdFromNY. You're right.

    But still, it's a great place to start and common facts are trustworthy I think. I was interested in the 18th century and especially the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Because one of my main characters witnessed that event...
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Interesting. I never would have thought about doing this.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I love listening to the authors on CSPAN's Book TV when an historian reveals the letters and other materials they researched for their books.
     
  21. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best thing about Wikipedia is the reference lists at the bottom of the articles. The worst thing is that if you run searches outside of WP, you keep finding the exact articles on other sites - which is very tiresome if you're trying to corroborate something you saw in WP.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's a great place to find sources. It's also revealing when you see some of the sources, some are legit and some are pretty flaky.
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I had an interesting quest once arguing with an anti-vaxxer about the death and serious consequence rate from measles. One per thousand cases are fatal and another one per thousand cases lead to serious sequelae is cited in source after source but tracking down the original source of that information proved impossible. The numbers were used in many peer reviewed professional journals and the CDC and WHO both use the number, but I could not find the original data the figures came from.

    The anti-vaxxer had a point.

    I never did find the original source of the data but enough recent cases of measles have now occurred that we have new epidemiological data. Sadly the death and serious consequence rates are little changed and now the anti-vaxxer can no longer say the numbers are exaggerated.

    The point is, however, some data if collected very long ago, cannot be compared to current data. Surveillance for infectious diseases, and disease reporting in the 1950s is not the equivalent of epidemiological data collected today.

    So the age of the research and the history of the science is worth consideration when evaluating older scientific papers or data.
     
  24. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Another idea to add to researching history is to consult history forums. The questions I try to ask are the ones that will start a healthy conversation. That said, I have gained a somewhat sordid reputation for asking dumb questions, or not bothering to lead up on questions to which I've sparked a conversation to with my own inputs. I'm a lousy historian sometimes. :(
     
  25. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Don't forget YouTube!

    Need to know what it looks like to use an atlatl spear-thrower? There's a number of videos. What does everyday street life in XYZ city look like? There's probably a YouTube video (or 10). Want to see a muscle car engine taken apart and reassembled, chop-shop style? It's likely there.

    -Frank
     

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