Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Trio of Research Resources

Thank you to all who entered our latest TeachingAuthor giveaway. See the end of today's post to find out who won an autographed copy of Eileen Meyer's debut picture book, Who’s Faster? Animals on the Move (Mountain Press).

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart
When MA posted on Wednesday, she thought she would be the last TA to talk about research, but we're not quite done with this subject. I agree with what my fellow TeachingAuthors have already said about the importance of research in fiction. So, instead of beating that dead horse, I'm going to share three research resources some of you may find helpful:

1. Consult an expert
 Jeanne Marie's post reminded me of an important resource many writers, including me, shy away from: talking to an expert. As Jill wrote in her post, that expert can be a family member or friend. But what do you do when you don't know anyone with the background to answer your questions? I look for professionals in the field. Most often, they are the authors of books or articles I've come across in my research. So far, I've contacted two such experts for information related to my historical young adult work-in-progress--both university professors. Because of their positions, their email addresses were easy to find on their university websites.

From my experience contacting subject matter experts for my nonfiction work, I knew that most experts are happy to share their knowledge. These two professors were no different. One was able to answer my question via email. But he also expressed his pleasure at learning of my project and asked me to keep him informed of my progress. The other professor agreed to a phone interview and spent over an hour talking with me. He did more than simply answer my questions--he also provided information about additional research sources for my project.

Of course, I did my homework before contacting these experts. I didn't want to waste their time by asking "stupid questions" or anything that could be answered by reading the right references. If you need an expert's help and have never contacted one before, I suggest you do some research (either online or via books about nonfiction writing) on conducting effective research interviews first.

2. Visit your setting virtually
In last Wednesday's post, Esther discussed using maps and photographs in books to "travel" to the location of her picture book. Nowadays, we have Google Earth to allow us to take virtual tours of locations around the world. And this past weekend, while attending the SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Conference, I learned from a fellow attendee that another great resource is the U.S. Geologic Survey website. I haven't had a chance to explore this site in depth yet, but it appears to include historical topographical maps of U.S. locations as well as satellite images from around the world.  

3. Watch a video demonstration
It never occurred to me to use YouTube as a research resource until I was trying to find out about cat tricks for my I Fooled You short story, "Big Z, Cammi, and Me." Thanks to YouTube, I was able to watch videos of cats that had learned to "High Five" with their paws, a trick my main character teaches his cat, Big Z. More recently, I've watched re-enactments of eighteenth-century dances and step-by-step demonstrations of how to dress in eighteenth-century clothing.

Do any of you know of other resources, besides traditional library references? If so, please share them with us, either by posting a comment or sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Research Resource" in the subject line. Please note: several readers have emailed us about problems with Blogger's Word Verification software when trying to post comments. I've temporarily turned off Word Verification to make commenting easier. I'm hoping we won't be flooded with Spam as a result. I'm afraid that if we are, I'll have to turn WV back on. But for now, please "comment away"!

And finally, time to announce the winner of Eileen Meyer's debut picture book, Who’s Faster? Animals on the Move (Mountain Press). The winner is:

Karen  Kobylarz,

who submitted her entry via email. Like several other readers, Karen guessed that the fastest animal is the cheetah. Here's the correct answer from Eileen:
 The peregrine falcon is the fastest creature in the animal kingdom, with dives clocked at well over 200 mph. Try to catch that bird!
Thanks again to Eileen for her wonderful Student Success Story interview. And thanks to all our readers who entered the contest.

Happy writing!


Linda B said...

Of course it has to be for a narrow topic, but I've found the National Archives to be very helpful as a research tool, Carmela. My students have done some in the past for numerous kinds of projects, and learned also about history through examining photographs on the site. Thanks to you & all the past writers for these research posts. I've loved each one.

Deborah Amadei said...

Hi Ladies! Let me introduce myself.
My name is Deborah Amadei. I am a retired librarian diligently workingat her writing. I too am signed up for Tara lazar's PB challenge.
My site is

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Linda. I'll have to add the National archives to my reference list.
And welcome, Deborah. Hooray for you for signing up for PiBoIdMo!