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August 29, 2009
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We’ve already discussed where to do your research, so now we’re going to learn how to go about using those tools. Like everything else we do in life, there’s a process to it, and once you’ve learned the steps, finding the information becomes a bit easier (admittedly, some of the harder queries will never get easier).

What do you Need to Know?

Knowing what it is that you’re trying to research seems sort of obvious, but there are times when you won’t have the first clue about what you’re looking for. These are mostly situations when you already have your story plotted out, and now you need fact to work around your outline.

The situation: A group of police characters is out in the sprawling farmlands of the West Country in the middle of the night. After a brief struggle, one of them is shot. The character that has done the shooting and his accomplice flee. The remaining uninjured character dials 999 from his mobile, but he doesn’t get his own dispatch, and the resulting confusion means the ambulance is too delayed in being sent out, and the shot character dies.


There are a few things we need to know for this scene to believably pan out. Firstly, in which sorts of situations would rural British police have guns, and what might cause an emergency call to be routed to the wrong dispatch?

We’ll look at the gun issue first.

Most search engines only search key words, rather than whole sentences, so it would do no good to ask Google, “In which sorts of situations would rural British police have guns?” You have to pick out your keywords. This one’s fairly straight forward:

British Police Firearms


Plugging those three words into Google gets you some fairly straightforward answers. Basically, what we get from reading the Wikipedia entry is that they wouldn’t be issued a gun. If you want your bobby packing heat, he’d be doing so illegally. For the purposes of this scenario, some of the officers appear to be corrupt anyway, so having a pistol wouldn’t be too far of a stretch. In this case, you could easily imply that the weapon was purchased on the black market or given to him by some other baddie. Either way, the shooter would be untraceable back to him, unless he was stupid enough to leave it lying about somewhere with his dabs all over it.

Now, we’ll work on the second question. But... what is it? First, we need to know what it is that we need to know.

The remaining uninjured character dials 999 from his mobile, but he doesn’t get his own dispatch, and the resulting confusion means the ambulance is too delayed in being sent out, and the shot character dies.


Firstly, we can take out the bit about the ambulance. As of right now, we know why it’s going to be late (although, in queries like this, don’t be surprised if your entire scenario changes on you over the course of a half hour). Also, we don’t care that the guy dialling 999 is uninjured. That leaves us with dialling 999 from a mobile phone and getting sent to the wrong dispatch.

Let’s start with the issue of the phone, and get back to dispatch in a bit. Since he’s on a mobile phone, and not a landline, we need to know what the differences might be between outgoing calls from each. Would being a mobile phone make any difference at all? Would placement of towers interfere with the call, assuming he can get reception (since we just want the ambulance to be delayed, and not completely out of the picture, we’re going to assume that coverage is available where they’re at)?

This is one of those muddy questions that still need to be trimmed down and streamlined. For questions like this, we might do some basic Google footwork first. Some search terms you might want to try would be:

  • call routing UK
  • 999 from mobile
  • 999 from landline


You’ll want to compare a 999 call between a mobile phone and a landline to see if there are any differences. Google probably won’t give you very much information, but the next step will be easier if you’ve spent a few minutes in doing this first.

Next, take your query to your preferred group of experts. I like Little_Details because you can ask nigh on anything over there. Tell your experts everything. When the story is taking place (not just what year, but also time of day in some cases), what you need to know, what you think you already know, what research you’ve already done, and give them a good, solid synopsis of your scene/story. The more information they have, the more quickly you’ll get help. If they ask you a question, answer it as quickly and clearly as possible.

Eventually, after enough clarification has been made, you’ll get a really good answer involving overlapping of cell towers, some anecdotal evidence, and how and why such errors in call routing might occur.

So, the research has taken a while, but in this situation (far-fetched as it is), you can make fact bend to your plot, and still have everything feel believable and organic.


Sometimes, though, you may have an issue where you want a situation to work one way, but you can’t seem to find any information on how it could work, or even whether it’s possible.

The situation: 16th century, a character is stabbed through the chest and his lung is punctured. He’s several days journey from the nearest city, but he is travelling with a companion. His companion, though not a surgeon, knows how to patch up such a wound, resulting in them being a few days late into town.


First, what do we need to know? Survivability of chest wounds might be one place to start. Recovery time of chest wounds might be another place. There’s a hidden issue in this question, though; one that doesn’t make itself known, except for in context. You’d need to know medical practise for the 16th century. What might have been done during this time, and how would that affect recovery/survivability? So, first, we’ll consult Google, and see what we can manage.

  • stab wound
  • stab wound to chest
  • recovery time stabbing
  • 16th century medicine
  • 16th century surgical tools


With some of these search terms, you’ll likely find out how such wounds are treated now, what the expected recovery would be, and that people in Elizabethan England were absolutely nuts. You’ll probably already start to suspect that your planned scenario isn’t workable, but now would be a great time to double check with your experts.

Again, be thorough and honest in your post and responses, and don’t get discouraged when your experts back up your suspicions, bringing in issues of infection from dirty tools, and the dangers of internal bleeding.

At this point, you could do one of two things; either change your plot to fit the information you’ve found, or change your injury to something less severe so you don’t have to mess up your timeline.  In the long run, the amount of time taken will probably be the same either way, so the choice is up to you.

What if I can’t Find the Information?

Sometimes, you know exactly what you need, but the information just doesn’t exist.

The situation: Story is taking place during the 17th century. You want the dialogue to be time-appropriate, with proper grammar for the time and not be faked.


So, what are we looking for? Well, first, you need to know what language they were speaking in the 17th century. I don’t mean English or French, either. The English language has changed and evolved over time. The 17th century wasn’t too far back, so we can rule out Proto-English and Old English. What you’d want to do is look up the history of the English language. If you plug that exact phrase into Google, the first thing you get is a Wikipedia page, aptly titled. In this, we find that they’d have been speaking Early Modern English in this time.

So, now you know what form of English you’re looking for, so let’s go back to Google.

  • Early Modern English
  • Early Modern English syntax
  • 17th century syntax
  • 17th century grammar
  • Early Modern English grammar


For some of the terms, you may want to try Google proper, and others, you’d want to try Google Books. Did you know that you can read books on Google? They’ve even got books on this subject.

These books might be a bit too technical. Maybe you want to see how people actually wrote in this time period.

  • 17th century literature
  • 17th century plays
  • 17th century pamphlets
  • 17th century letters
  • 17th century diaries


Sometimes, you want your search to be as broad as possible. If you think it might be related, plug it into your search. You can actually find entire diaries and plays written during the time online. Plays, especially comedies, will be your best bet for historical vernacular, because the dialogue is the most natural (it’s not exactly perfect, but it’s close).

If you still can’t find the information, you may yet have one final ace up your sleeve. If you’ve a friend in college or university, offer to cook them supper in exchange for getting into their college databases and libraries for you. Colleges and universities are afforded resources that the general public doesn’t always have. These are particularly useful in matters of history or science. Often times, all you’ll need to do is a library search to get you pushed in the right direction, due to the way a lot of their search engines are arranged.


Remember, resources aren’t only available online. You can usually find a library close to where you live, and there are staff there whose job it is to help you find what you’re looking for. The queries may come back with books, CDs, tapes or DVDs, or any number of sources. The more places you look, the more likely you have of finding the information you need.
Now that you have the resources, you need to know how to use them.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconblackhayate02:
BlackHayate02 Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Very well-detailed. Nice!
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:iconeditwrimo:
EditWriMo Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2009   Writer
The inclusion of potential search terms in this is a great touch.
Reply
:icondanirayea:
danirayea Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2009
Thank you so much! I'm attempting to -gasp- actually put some effort into my writing this time around, so this guide will be very helpful!
Reply
:iconml-larson:
ML-Larson Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2009  Professional Writer
I find writing's so much more fun when I take the time to figure out all the little niggly bits. I've learned more (and more useful) things from researching for my writing than I ever did in school.
Reply
:icondaneiki:
daneiki Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2009
Yay! A practical tutorial on how to work with search engines! And yes...I've spent ages just trying to work out exactly what it is I'm looking for. Sure you can sometimes find it with a very broad search, but it takes a LOT longer.
Reply
:iconml-larson:
ML-Larson Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2009  Professional Writer
I find that knowing what I need to look up is often the hardest part. Because, yeah. Some queries are just plain weird.

Knowing how to dissect your search is half the battle won, though.
Reply
:icondaneiki:
daneiki Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2009
Hooray for boolean logic!
Reply
:icondr7key:
dr7key Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2009
I do love so much, I'm preparing my BA this year and I think this will help me a lot. I'll ask your permission for having this on my Future Websites to share it with my classmates if you don't mind :) Thanks!
Reply
:iconml-larson:
ML-Larson Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2009  Professional Writer
Share away, mate. That's what it's for. :)
Reply
:icondr7key:
dr7key Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2009
If I ask u to proof-read for me, would it possible ?
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