I usually research before I write. Why? Well, let’s just say I’m smart enough to know when I’m not smart enough to write about something with just the ideas floating around in my head. Someday I may be an expert on something – but today is not that day. Tomorrow’s not looking so good, either.
When I started my writing for fun and not very much profit 28 years ago, I was advised that every writer should have the following books on their bookshelves. I dutifully bought them.
1. A good dictionary. I have Merriam-Webster, copyright 1974.
2. Roget’s Thesaurus. My copy is copyright 1980.
3. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, by John Bartlett, original copyright date 1882. My copy is copyright 1980.
Fast forward 28 years and you’ll find these books collecting dust on a bookshelf in my husband’s office – I don’t even use them enough to justify moving them to my office.
Today, there are several online dictionaries – with the benefit of containing words that no one had even thought to have heard of in the 1980s. Online dictionaries contain new words such as internet, webcast, cell phone and laptop, not to mention supermom and superglue. And they contain old words with new meanings such as mouse, virus, blackberry and tablet.
Today, most word processing software has a built-in thesaurus. So if I’m writing along and can’t think of the word I want, I just put in a similar word that I know I don’t want, and click on “Synonyms.” Presto! The software gives me a choice of half a dozen words that I could use in its place.
And while I still refer to Bartlett’s from time to time – particularly if I’m looking for something Shakespearean – I have to go to another source to find more recent quotes.
My favorite other source, of course, is the World Wide Web. Search engines can do marvelous things. Some of these, such as Goodsearch, even contribute to charity for each search. Seriously. You sign up, choose your charity, and Goodsearch donates a penny a search. Doesn't sound like much, but it all adds up.
With the ease of use and wealth of information comes a price, however. As a user of the internet, I have to consider that not all sources are created equally, and that misinformation is as easy to find as true information. Caveat emptor.