I would love to hear the ways different writers do their research. I always feel at a loss trying to contact different professionals for info. Having web search is great, but some questions I need direct answers to so, is there any set rule on how to approach for info?
The most surprisingly neglected place to go for research is the standby of writers of old, your local library and the librarians within. The people sitting at the reference desk have a degree in finding information and they have vast quantities of it at their fingertips. Not only do they know the best techniques for finding web data, they also have access to catalogues and archives that we mere mortals cannot access. Not to mention knowing where to find a great deal of data in the research books available at every library.
If you are a student or you know one you can do some digging yourself, colleges and universities subscribe to searchable archives of research and reference materials. One of the many underutilized resources for which your college tuition is paying.
Getting in Touch
If your question is not one that is easily searchable or your search proves fruitless, your next option is to find an expert. The internet can also help in this regard.
The first step that I would take is to look for an online forum. There are hundreds of thousands of forums on the internet and it is likely that you’ll find one that is related to your question. It’s best to read the FAQ on any given forum to make sure that you’re posting your question in the right place but there are a few rules one should Always follow when posting on forums
- "I have a question" is a terrible topic title. Everyone has a question. Ask the question in the topic.
- Think about the best way to ask your question. Be succinct and clear. Every person that asks "Please explain more, what do you mean?" is a person who probably could have answered your question the first time around if you’d asked it right.
- Thoroughly search the forum before you ask a question, use the forum’s internal search as well as Google to make sure the information hasn’t been addressed already
Other alternatives to forums include sites like Yahoo! Answers and Experts Exchange.
The next step is to get in touch with a professional directly. Try a professional network like LinkedIn. LinkedIn even has an Answers section where you can ask questions of professionals. You could even try doing a Facebook search for a professional who you think would know the answer to your question and simply send them a message.
A service I recently discovered is Ether.com, which lets people talk to professionals on the phone for a set charge, either per minute or per block of time. Everything is arranged through e-mail and they can usually give you an idea of how long it will take them to answer your question.
A few guidelines to follow when contacting professionals:
- Explain why you are contacting them, tell them you’re a writer doing research for a story. If you’re writing a murder mystery and send a doctor an e-mail containing only "What’s the fastest way to drain blood from the human body?" you can count on having your e-mail forwarded to the authorities.
- Keep in mind, professionals are just people who know more than you do about a particular subject. Always be respectful but don’t be intimidated.After all, you probably know more than they do about dragons.
- Thank them and offer to send them a copy of the book (upon publication), even if it doesn’t get published, it is a kind gesture they may well appreciate, though they may not want to give you their address if you’re writing about draining people’s blood 8).
I hope that gives you some more options for research, if anyone has any particular question that they’d like to ask the community, feel free to e-mail me and perhaps I’ll do a Pesky Research Question of the Week section.