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What are your favorite resources for research?
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The internet at our fingertips is such a powerful tool. However, we can misuse this source of information unintentionally. Far too many people think that whatever is published on the internet is somehow vetted. If it’s on a page, it must be valid is not a great way to come to the information at our fingertips.
That said, if you know your way around, and you’ve come up to speed on how to vet information for yourself, this powerful tool can provide all you need to do your research. This is why I stress the importance of taking classes at a collegiate level. Regardless of what you believe, getting to consult with others on acceptable documents and so forth, is actually very important. Credible resources matter, especially in writing historical pieces and any work that rely on accurate events, places, and people.
Another point of importance on the validity of information: published books aren’t always accurate either. Not every author is trustworthy. How do we know who to trust? If you rely on books from which to gain information, you may fair better more often. Not every conspiracist with an ax to grind has access to publishing a book. It requires navigating a litany of steps to prove the value of your work to the public. Via books, only those with enough power or clout get to have their ideas presented.
Now, keep in mind, power and clout often make for a questionable concoction. It’s a lot easier to consider the source when you’ve been able to digest other moments and words from them prior to coming across their written word on any given topic. A healthy exercise of one’s skepticism is necessary with any research. This is a lot harder to do when the information is coming from an unfamiliar source.
How would you vet something that comes from someone with whom you’re unfamiliar then? Ask yourself a few questions: where is this being posted (vetted journal with a reputation, private blog, scholarly outlet)? What is the background of the author (do they have degrees or experience in the field, how are they viewed by their peers, what have they contributed to the area of knowledge)? Is this contributing to confirmation bias I may have, or is it bringing in facts and from where? Then, you’d go back through the questions with who is providing those facts.
All of this said, please remember that not all bias is negative. Some people will tell you otherwise, and that is often because it challenges their agenda. That is one of the things you’ll need to sniff out using instincts you hone over time. If your gut is screaming something isn’t right, there’s probably a good reason as to why.
I, for one, find the internet a great tool to get me started on the research I need to do for any of my books. Obtaining more detailed manuscripts is always a step in that process. Finding the right works to add to my bibliography has always begun online.
You can learn more about the processes that I utilize in writing my books through my series on Writing Historical Fiction. There is also my graduate papers on this site which provide some epic bibliographies on doing research. For example:
- MacMillan, Margaret. Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History. New York: The
Modern Library, 2008.
- May, Lary. The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 2000.
- Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1996.
- Appleby, Joyce, Lynn Hunt, and Jacob Margaret. Telling the Truth about History. New York: W.
W. Norton & Company, 1994.
The above list enumerates my top recommendations to learn how to process and deal with information that we find online and out in the world. These books will set your perspective and help create those critical lenses required for this line of work.
In the end, it is up to each author to determine how far they will go in their research and what kind of work they wish to produce at the end of it. Not all books require this level of care. Not all authors are willing to put in this much effort, either. Therefore, the above list can provide the average reader with much needed tools in navigating the books that they consume. After all, how many times have you heard someone spout misinformation they learned through an Old Western? Passively absorbing information can do that to you, whether it comes from a film or a book.
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Richard Dee says
Using the internet for validation is fraught with difficulty. I use it (in all its anarchic beauty) for inspiration, then focus on reputable sources to double or triple-check the facts behind my fiction.
P.J. MacLayne says
When doing research, we can’t forget that history is written by the winners. Finding sources from the losing side can be a challenge.
Samantha J Bryant says
Historical fiction takes a lot of research to do right. @samanthabwriter from