Research Tools for Fiction and Non-fiction Writers
The majority of writers know how to use the Internet when they need to investigate a topic. Most of us pop onto a search engine like Google, bing, or Yahoo! Search and type our subject of interest into the search box.
But let’s say you are researching a term like “cancer.” Thousands of sites are going to show up. Some may offer helpful material, but many of the links are going to be useless. You may get scams and offers of miracle cures all mixed in with legitimate websites.
So how do you sort through all the extraneous material to get to the good stuff?
Here’s a simple trick I always use: Type the words “site: edu” after the term you are searching. (Don’t use quotation marks.) Inside your browser it’s going to look like this:
cancer site: edu
Now, the first websites that are going to be listed have been sifted through an educational institution. You are much more likely to find helpful material for your writing.
I write about self-care, so let’s say I have a question in my mind like, “I wonder how listening to music benefits cancer patients?”
Once again I could Google my question, but how will I know if the answers are valid? Maybe someone wrote them on a blog post without verifying the facts. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the answers have been studied scientifically? Vetted by other scholars? Wouldn’t it be nice to know how the study was done, and whether the research was current?
Even as recent as ten years ago, you had to search tomes or giant stacks of professional journals in an actual library in order to get valid research. But with today’s computer technology it is simple to access serious research for your fiction or non-fiction book.
Hang with me here. It’s not as difficult as it might sound.
My library here in Littleton, Colorado (Jefferson County Library) lets me access professional journals from my home computer. I’m going to show you how Jefferson County’s library system does this. Your library system may vary, so If you need help, ask your librarian for assistance. Also, you need to make sure you have a library card so you can access the system. Here’s what I do:
- I go to Jefferson County Library’s web site
- I click on the maroon icon labeled, “Research Tools”
- I click on “Magazines and Newspapers” (on the left-hand side)
*My library subscribes to something called EBSCOhost, which provides online databases to libraries worldwide. All libraries are different, but most will give you access to two “workhorse, all-purpose” databases: Academic Search Premier and/or ProQuest. These allow you to search specific topics under a broad umbrella rather than having to narrow your research to certain journals (e.g. nursing journals or psychology journals).
Now you’re going to guess at some key words to put into the search box. I start by entering the words:
affects music cancer patients
This next part is important:
Before I click the search button, I narrow my search by using limiters:
I want to limit my search to scholarly material because I don’t want information to come from non-scholarly magazines such as People or Newsweek, so I check “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.”
I only want to look at the articles where I can read the entire article, not just the summary or abstract, so I check “Full Text.”
And lastly, I want the research to be current, so I’ll limit the date to the last ten years.
As I find articles, I look to see which key words are noted so I can try searching those if I’m not finding what I need. When I find my article, I can read it online, print it out in PDF format, or even email it to others or myself. If you are a visual learner, maybe a video showing how I do research will be a helpful addition.
Do you have some research tips to offer other writers?