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From One Medium to Another

June 29, 2010

Remember the days when research was not done online but in line. Specifically, in line at the public library.

Oh, those were the good old days, weren’t they? Well, maybe not. Not if you had to walk five miles to the library and then five miles back at night (the distance from the Medford Public Library to my house on Monument Street by the Mystic River, eh, I mean, Mystic Rivuh).

Of course, nowadays, we can do all of our research online. This means we have less exercise from walking. We don’t have to leave the house. We don’t get bothered by loud library patrons. Yep, we get to be anti-social, overweight, out of shape couch potatoes.

Anyway, I guess I should get to the gist of this piece, which is that the resources are basically the same. We’ve just jumped from one medium to another.

What are the online resources I use most in my writing?

I have four online resources that I use heavily. Three of them should be pretty easy to figure out (that is, for anyone who didn’t participate in the current American educational system).

For those not in the know, this means “encyclopedia,” “dictionary” and “thesaurus.”

First up is the encyclopedia. We know it as Wikipedia. Apparently, Wikipedia has information on everything. Whereas Encyclopedia Britannica would never deign to do a write-up on Jessica Simpson’s or Paris Hilton’s younger sisters, Wikipedia will.

Another big difference is that Encyclopedia Britannica pays lots of people to verify the information it puts out. Wikipedia counts on the general public for information. Talk about being ripe for disinformation, misinformation and mistakes. Why, even a housewife from New Jersey and living in Virginia could send in something that could appear on Wikipedia.

So, why do I use it? As I said, Wikipedia will talk about Jessica Simpson’s sister and Encyclopedia Britannica won’t. I’m just looking for enough information to make my characters sound like they know what they’re talking about.

Secondly, we have the dictionary. Online, it’s dictionary.com. And while we’re at it, let’s include the third common item – the thesaurus. Thesaurus.com is the brother (or sister) of dictionary.com and both are part of Ask.com.

I like these sites. They’re way cool. Both have “Word of the Day” and “Question of the Day” features. For instance, Sunday’s question of the day is: Are book titles underlined, italicized or put in quotations?

The answer, by the way, is “for longer written works like plays and novels, italicize. Underline if you can’t italicize. Use quotes for titles within titles.”

The word of the day was “Zephyr.” The cool breeze, not the car.

Dictionary.com and thesaurus.com are full of gems like those. And they’re good for looking up word meanings or if you need synonyms, homonyms or antonyms. Some people might even use them to find a way to brutally do away with that essential part of speech called the adverb.

Last but not least, we get to the main online source I use – Google.

In order to get to Wikipedia, I Google things – Wicked Writers, Examiner.com, red herrings, Maurice Broaddus (you’ll get the reference tomorrow). You can get all your questions asked, like “Why in the hell is Chef Gordon Ramsey still alive?”

Google also brings up tons of other websites that contain the information I need (along with about 10,000 other sites nobody really needs, except the ones soon to be converted to .xxx).

Compare that to Bing. Bing is almost as good as Google, but Google windows don’t pop up every time you bump your mouse across any word containing a vowel.

I don’t know what other online resources my fellow bloggers use, but feel free to partake of mine. You have my permission.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. George Allwynn permalink*
    June 29, 2010 7:04 am

    I agree with you – the dictionary/thesaurus you have is one of my favorites.

    I had to laugh – I come from the generation that knew what a ‘card-catalog’ was in a library.

    Well, I recently moved, from the BIG METRO, Detroit area, to a small ‘Hicksville’, surrounded by other small Hicksvilles just like it. (One might remember my recent rant about the evils of dial-up, after years of high speed internet…)

    The other day, I decided to introduce myself to our local librarian (who is the daughter in law of my landlord, oldest daughter of the widow who lives three houses down and the wife of the town’s only plumber.)

    I walked into a library that was nice, clean, had a number of recent best sellers and four computers (all operating on Visa.) It was also no bigger than my studio apartment, had books that hasn’t been checked out since 1973, had NO writing section or no GLBT section, and…

    The only way to look up books was on the card catalog – a tall, slender, blonde wood cabinet, looking 50’s modern and proudly displayed by the librarians desk.

    And you know what?

    I swear to you, on all that is sacred and holy in my life, I stood before the thing, blinked several times, blushing a lovely shade of flamingo pink, trying to remember how to used the d@mn thing!

    Nothing like a good wake up call in the middle of a Hicksville library, with the birarian staring at you over her half rimmed glasses like your zipper port was undone, to remind you that your mind isn’t what it used to be, the world is changing faster than you do your underwear,

    And soon to be as obsolete as the card catalog.

  2. June 29, 2010 8:26 am

    Good post, Greg! I was going to mention other sites, but they wouldn’t nearly be as helpful as the ones you mentioned.

    Oh – and to clarify – I was born and partly raised in VA, then moved to NJ where I lived until college. I eventually came back to VA, dated my husband long distance in NJ, then moved back there when we got hitched. But, I’m proud to say we’ve been in VA for six years and it was my hubby’s advice to move here – he was sick of NJ and glad to leave!

    And incase there was any doubt – I have not submitted an article to Wikipedia – but I’ll certainly think on it now 😉 Ah, I love how you keep me on my toes!

  3. June 29, 2010 11:39 am

    Great Article. I too use wikipedia to get a lead and then verify. However I was shocked when the university that I taught at last year sent an email out from Wikipedia encouraging us to allow our students to use it as a cited reference because there are academics who verify information. Well I balked and questioned and from past experience knew that some things were inaccurate.

    They then proceeded to give us a lesson on how to look at history to see where it had been editted and we tried it by putting false information in and the next day it was gone and edited. Of course I was not sold but I did tell my students who had heard this news from several other professor to use it as a sounding board…to get an idea of maybe what your topic is about but not to trust in the information. for example if you are doing a topic on a serial killer ( I taught sociology and criminology) use it for the name and possible acts of violence but only as a trail leading to the real facts not use it as gospel.

    Also I was wondering why of all the online new media sources you picked Examiner.com to mention..? I write for them and was just wondering of your honest experience.

    thank you and great article

  4. July 1, 2010 4:15 pm

    Anther fine mess you leave me in, Greg!! 🙂 Really… great post!

    And there was I getting ready to write about google and wikipedia! Back to the drawing board… oops, writing tablet!

    I’m a wiki fan myself and (Bertena may choke at this point!) I even got away with wikipedia citations in my (now published) PhD research!

    Now where is that thinking cap? I have a blog post to write! 🙂

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