Monday, October 29, 2012

The truth, the whole truth and ONLY the truth

A few weeks ago, Dayton wrote about Research and the importance of this task in a writer's work. I've been immersed in some research myself recently. In fact, I have read so much about snakes for my new children's book 'Sea Scapes' that I was really not surprised to find that one had materialized in my garage last week.

I do a lot of my research on the internet. It is convenient and it can be comprehensive, however, I was interested to realise how completely unreliable internet sources can be. Try to find out whether or not snakes can see in colour and you will find a plethora of experts contradicting each other and even more amateurs commenting although they know nothing concrete on the topic.

Today's writers rely quite a bit on the internet as they research topics to make their characters and scenes authentic. However, we have to be extremely careful about where we get our information. Do a search on the internet and Wikipedia is sure to be in the top ten results on your search page. It is true that this source contains a great amount of information, and it is true that much of it is accurate but consider the description the site proclaims--"the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit"--and you will understand the need to be cautious. The information is provided by volunteers and the site relies on the users to point out errors. The views are often biased and can be inaccurate.

For my snake research I had to do things the old-fashioned way. I headed out to my local library to get the information that I needed. What sources do you rely on when researching for a book? 


Charles Gramlich said...

Depends on the topic. If it's psychology or historical weapons, I've got the reference books on my shelves. If it's something else I'll probably start on the net and finish with our university library.

G. B. Miller said...

For my upcoming book, I used the internet for one third, the library for another third, and people for that last third.

Normally, it'll be the internet and people for most of my research, with the library used only as a confirmation for the first two.

Jewel Amethyst said...

For my last book I traveled to the area to get a better perspective, utilized the local library there and tried to visit some of the locations. In either case, the information I was looking for was not available on wikipedia.

The thing is, even children in grade school are told not to use wikipedia as a source of reference.
At the same time we have to be careful of all internet sources.

I remember a joke once where are whole county banned styrofoam cups in its parks because of an internet article explaining it is toxic due to the use of Dihydrogen oxide in its manufacture. The article described dihydrogen oxide as an odorless, colorless liquid that is fatal if inhaled. What is dihydrogen oxide? Water.

Turns out the article was written by a fourteen year old as a tongue-in-cheek prank. You can imagine how stupid those county officials must have felt.

William Doonan said...

I try to limit my research because I get caught up in it. Twelve hours into my library foray, I realize that readers probably won't care if the heroine's buttons are made of zinc or tungsten.

Liane Spicer said...

I use the general Internet, including Wikipedia. I check several sources and cross-reference. I also use online libraries and databases. The problem with the ease of online research is that I tend to forget where I started and go chasing after one fascinating rabbit after another.