How to Dig

The internet is a boon for any author seeking information about a topic, but the very multiplicity of information sources can lead to hours of wasted research time. A Google entry can call up dozens of websites that contain variants of the same information. That’s because so many online writers are amateur historians or scientists or what have you. How can you dig down deeper to find stuff that really will interest readers?

Not surprisingly, one fruitful method stems from an age-old practice, back when writers would comb through books. At the bottom of an article you will find the footnotes’ sources. This is true of any Wikipedia article, for instance. The writer of that article is likely more of a specialist than you are, and the sources used therefore have more substance. A search for “Five Corners,” a notorious New York City slum of yesteryear, will yield an article wherein one source is the book Five Corners. Within its 441 pages you can find all sorts of information, some of which can occasion new research forays.

While that particular book needs to be purchased or borrowed from the library, there is plenty of other source material that can be found right online. Many older books and journal articles of any age are compiled on scholarly websites such as JSTOR. While some demand a fee to sign up, these prices can be nominal, and many times you don’t have to pay at all. A scholarly journal article may run only 10 pages, but you might find 10 facts that illuminate what you want for your fictional world.

Depending on the age of the books cited, many of them belong in the public domain. That is, anyone can reproduce the book. It’s extremely helpful for all readers that big tech companies have decided they should use that right to make the books available online. The Google Books site has hundreds of books available for free, and the same is true through applications like iBooks. Even books that are still under copyright can be available to read if you merely register for a website.

All of this hunting for books for free bypasses the fruitful avenue of buying used books. After assessing how germane a book is to your subject, you may decide that spending 10 or 15 bucks is a wise investment. You can find nearly new books on sites such as Book Finder and Alibris. I should point out that I’m not dismissing the attractive option of purchasing a new book. If it really interests you, don’t you want it for your library?

Another option, which I’m leaving for last only because it is the most traditional, is using your local libraries. All of them have online catalogues these days, and a number of the websites you’ll find expressly have a box to enter your zip code to find a local library that has your book. You may still spend many happy hours in the stacks even you come to them from your laptop.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” —C. S. Lewis

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved. 

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.