Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Three tips for using the Internet as an ‘always open library’ for your writing research

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Here are three important tips for using the Internet to help you do research for any type of writing:

1. Internet search engines can find ANYTHING you may be writing about, but sometimes you have to work hard to find EXACTLY what you may be writing about.

My search engine of choice, and I believe that of most people, is Google. Google is sort of the “god” of Internet search engines. Everything you might want to know about the Outer Banks region of North Carolina, for example, is there somewhere in Google. I recently did some research of ad copy I had to write about the Outer Banks. I was especially interested in maps and photos of the region. I’ve never been there, so I wanted to “see” what the region was all about.

Instead of just typing “Outer Banks” in the search box, I typed “Outer Banks”+photos — and I came up with something over 900,000 sites with photos of the Outer Banks, including three beautiful Google Images photos at the top of the page.

The lesson here — learn how to use Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live Search features by taking time to browse the search engine sites. It’ll save you a lot of time over using general searches. And there are a wealth of ways to search we can all learn about, I’m sure.

2. The “always on” Internet research library includes the languages, nations, and libraries of the world.

If you live in a small community or isolated location, it’s invaluable to remember that the whole world is out there on the “Worldwide Web,” and you’ve got to think big. Spend an hour every day thinking about cities and countries you might like to visit. Chances are you can find access to libraries, museums, and archives in those locations that you can access 24/7 from central North Dakota, western Kansas, or downtown Los Angeles. Wherever you are and have an Internet connection, you can in a real sense be almost anywhere you wish with a few clicks of your mouse.

Think and plan your research both offline and online to get the most out of your research connections to the world.

3. Since just about everything you want is on the Internet, make sure you evaluate carefully anything you find on the Internet. As the world’s greatest-ever “information super highway,” the Worldwide Web is both a blessing and a cursing. That means there is far more opportunity for error and downright fraud on the Internet than almost anywhere else you can do research.

It’s up to you to carefully cross-check information you find and evaluate it before you use it in your writing. How? By checking as many sources as you can — offline as well as online — and evaluating what you have on the basis of other sources and some good old common sense. Check references. Check sources. Look for sites related to legitimate governments, universities, colleges, public libraries and other institutions. Take nothing for granted if you are using something from the Internet as a resource, especially if you’re doing non-fiction and “factual” writing.

If you’re writing fiction, and looking for photos and information to give your writing authenticity, i.e., verisimilitude, you’re not so concerned. But if you are writing non-fiction, check and recheck everything you can.

So, what are some ways you use the Internet for your writing research? Tell us, please.
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