Thursday, January 17, 2008

I'm a Research Beginner: Where Do I Start?

Confessions of a Researchaholic

"The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a
man [or woman] will turn over half a library to write one book."
— Samuel Johnson
Do you want to broaden your knowledge base and add fascinating tidbits to your writing?

I confess…I enjoy reading encyclopedias. My first foray onto the Internet was via free access provided by Juno. When I discovered the Library of Congress online (http://www.loc.gov/index.html), I did not come up for air for days.

Juno canceled my “free” account.

Top Ten Research Suggestions

1. Read. Read. Read. I always keep a book in my purse and in the car.
2. Be curious. Ask questions. Seek answers. Develop a nose for interesting, unique details.
3. Watch people. Observe, interview or listen to interesting people. Read or listen to opposing viewpoints, then chronicle your response to help you rethink or crystallize what you believe.
4. Start broad. Scour general reference books—atlas, dictionary, almanac, encyclopedia, historical time line—to narrow your topical search.
5. Use your local library resources. Check out pertinent books from the library. Get acquainted with the research section.
6. Always read bibliographies. Then request original source material by utilizing interlibrary loan.
7. Examine online sources. Read newspaper, magazine, professional journal, and scholarly sources.
8. Peruse online foreign sources. Read English edition newspapers on every continent. Check out their editorials and editorial cartoons.
9. Be aware of cultural trends. Review the bestseller lists for books, movies and music. Journal your responses to what you read, see and hear.
10. Contact experts. E-mail, call or visit museums, historical societies, universities, and experts to find little-known details.

Five Research Time Savers

1. Subscribe to free e-newsletters offered by professionals on topics of interest. I subscribe to e-newsletters from university presses announcing their new book releases.

2. Search google.com. Click on “advanced search.” Choose 100 results instead of 25. Type key words into google.com, and go for it! Scan the list, read short description and then click on best links.

3. Sign up for Google Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts?hl=en Type in key words to receive emails with links to Google’s latest search results.

Don’t Have Time to Study Your Research?

4. Set up folders under “Favorites.” When I don’t have time to study a web site in detail, I save the link into the appropriate folder, then return, click and read when I have more time to mine the wealth.

5. Save web pages as a text file. On your menu, click on “File,” click on “save as,” choose “text file.” Saving a webpage as a “text file” eliminates all graphics. You also have the source and copyright information for your bibliography.


elizabeth said...

I noticed you forgot to mention using wikipedia as a reliable source. ;-P Just kidding.

Good tips. The saving Web pages as a text file is a good idea--I'll have to try that.

I've also found that google scholar is good if you're looking for more academic sources (although it's usually best to use it at a library that has subscriptions/access to online scholarly journals).

Scoti Springfield Domeij said...

I love Google.scholar. However, my biggest frustration is: the articles that usually interest me are found at JSTOR, which is NOT available unless you work for the library or a university.

I emailed JSTOR to see if I could gain access. They recommended I go to the library. Many times while researching, I will want a minimum of 10-15 JSTOR articles. So now, I just ignore JSTOR articles, because it is too frustrating to request them from the library.

Also, our library only allows 45 minutes online on their computers, which is frustrating when doing serious research.

Wiki is the largest encyclopedic database in the world. But I don't trust everything I read on Wiki. As you probably know, some people have sabotaged some of the web pages, which caused Wiki to enforce more stringent editing rules.

When I do use Wiki, I always double-check the facts. I prefer to locate original sources, or at least three reliable sources that agree on a fact. I will address this subject later on in this series.

If I want an original source, I go to amazon.com and order the book from a used bookseller. Many times the books are only $.01 plus $3.99 shipping. With gas at $3.00 a gallon, having it delivered to my door is cheaper and a better use of my research and writing time. Later in this series, I will also provide a list of booksellers that where out-of-print books can be ordered.

I went to your blog and LOVED it.

Vicki said...

This is really good! I've enjoyed my visit and will return. Thanks for visiting Windows recently. I also have a writer's blog at Light for the Writer's Soul. We writers must stick together for mutual encouragement:-)

God bless you richly,