Thursday, March 05, 2009


100 Fun and Useful Search Engines for Writers

by Jill Earl

I’ve always had a fondness for research. Throughout school, the prospect of choosing a topic, taking the data I’d acquire, picking it apart and trying to make sense of it all greatly excited me. As the Internet grew and flourished, so did my interest.

Imagine my excitement finding my way to the LearningXL blog on WordPress and finding ‘100 Fun & Useful Search Engines for Writers’. Assembled is a very useful list of websites to assist with conducting research, adding multimedia to your projects, developing business plans, and much more.

Need some help with researching industry trends? Zibb might be the stop for you. Want to add multimedia to a project? Glance at a multimedia engine such as Podscope for ideas. And if all that Googling’s made you cross-eyed, take a break with Yahoo! Kids.

Check the list right here:

You never know. That one resource you need for stand-out writing might be waiting with the next click of your mouse!

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Friday, February 27, 2009


Using Google Alerts

Want an easy way to keep tabs on your published articles? Would you like to receive the latest information on a topic or person that you're writing about, delivered right to your e-mail inbox? Just create some Google Alerts—a service offered to people who have Google accounts. (To get a Google account, go to their home page and sign up.).

You choose the search terms for your alerts, then you receive automatic e-mails when there are new Google results. The different types of alerts include news (the latest news articles about your topic), web (the latest web pages that contain your search terms), blogs (posts that contain your search terms), comprehensive (the latest results from multiple sources), video (the latest videos with your search terms), and groups (posts from your Google groups). It's up to you whether you'd like daily, weekly, or "as it happens" alerts.

I've been experimenting with the program, just to see how it works. I set up a weekly alert using my city's name, to get local news and find out about blog discussions. I also set up a daily alert for my name, as well as the titles of several articles I've written that appear online. From this test, I've learned that it's a good idea to put full names and titles (any search with multiple key words) in quotes, to get the most accurate results.

Though I haven't tried it yet, there's also an advanced search function, which can help narrow your results even further. For example, you can include information to find web pages that have "all these words" or "this exact wording or phrase" or "one or more of these words"...but don't show pages that have "any of these unwanted words." You can also set up a search within a certain site or domain.

Have you been using Google alerts? Feel free to chime in!

--Marcia Peterson

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Saturday, August 09, 2008


The Art of Research


The art of writing the perfect book takes time, patience and the best research. No matter how small the topic, we always have to do some form of research. But, did you know that research in itself can be an art? I know I must be eating way to many cookies. But, its true. It takes lots of time and diligence to find the perfect information for your story or article. That could mean hours of looking through books, magazines, the web and more.

The first step to the art of research is getting yourself organized. I have to admit I can be one of the most disorganized people around, although many people may tell you differently when they look around my home or even my business. (pssst, I'm a closet disorganized person)

My first suggestion is to find yourself a few spiral notebooks, they are inexpensive and work great to hold all of your research. Your best bet is to get one that is multiple subject so that you can organize by subject. For example, I have a notebook that is all about different varities of trees. From the Cypress to the Red Oak, I believe I even have a section for a Sycamore tree.

If you are going to be writing down notes on your subject, I highly recommend using a good ol' pencil, that way you can erase, fix your errors, etc.

Now time to get to the fun. Researching. With the technologies of today I start with my first and easiest access point for research the World Wide Web. There are great search engines available to us all, as many of you can attest I am sure you have been hard nosed google users for years, but did you know about the following search engines that are available to you?

  • Ask- This website looks on a narrower prospect. This company wants to get as close as possible to the subject you are researching.
  • Monster Crawler- Website actually does a piggyback technique onto other search engines such as google, yahoo, msn search. It will pull from their databases to provide you with the information you might be looking for.
  • Dogpile combines the best of all worlds. Dogpile will pull information from the different search engines. It also had toolbars, a special search engine that is placed on your desktop for quick searches and more. Each day, Dogpile has different quick searches that it can and will do for you. It's a neat site, fun to play with, but does help with comprehensive searches as well.
  • Alta Vista This search engine is great if you are searching in different languages. You can actually choose the language you wish to search in. You are also given the option to look up Audio and MP3 files. This search engine is quite multi-task friendly as well.

I don't want to overwhelm you just on search engines for the internet, I know that can be a lot in itself. But, there are also people search engines, there are geneology search engines.

Now onto the next realm of research. Our wonderful libraries. These are still the heart of the art of research. So many times, we can still find the older and more historical books that can and will be quite helpful to us all when you are searching for specific pieces of history. I actually took a look at one of my son's history book and was just shocked at how much history had been cut out of their books. The fall of Rome, it was only mentioned as a side note, hello! This was a huge part of history. There's a lot of information there. After shaking my head, I remembered one of my favorite places to go and do my research. I was glad that my old reliable was still very reliable for the information that I wanted to compile. So again, notebook in hand, the one on the subject of course, I begin to do my normal routine.

  • Card catalog- great to look by subject to see what they have available and today, if your local library doesn't have it but one in your district or nearby town does, they can have the book transferred over for your convenience. How about that for a gas saver for you. In some cases it may cost a couple of dollars, but it will save you sitting in traffic burning up a bunch of gas.
  • The reference section is a wonderful source of information, today you can still find many encyclopedia sets, up to date reference information on many subjects, from medications to even running shoes. Don't laugh I found a huge reference book at my local library on running shoes. Every type you can possibly imagine. Unfortunately, reference books can't always be shared by libraries. Check with your local librarian to see if they might transfer books specifically reference between them.
  • Periodicals are a great way to find current information, from the local news paper to the latest magazine, you can find hundreds that are kept through out your library. Many libraries archive these up to several years worth. Ask your librarian how many years their archives go back. You library will also have several different newspapers, not just the local paper, you can probably even find some that is still kept on microfilms, etc. Many libraries have now turned to having them on a special computer though.

When you actually start to take notes there are several methods to use. I always seem to go back to the old reliable, the one our teachers taught us so many years ago. The wonderful outline, just remember, you can expand the outline with a few extra notes if you want to make sure certain parts of your subject stand out. The old reliable works great to help keep your notes organized. Here is an example of one:

  1. Pineapples
    1. Grown in South America, the Hawaiian Islands, Australia
      1. Many plantations found on the island of Oahu
        1. Visitors can tour one of the biggest plantations ran by the Dole company
          1. Dole is a large manufacturer of canned fruits and vegetables.
  2. Varieties of Pineapples

As you can see, for each part of your subject you can expand, add as much or a little information as you need. The old reliable is quite handy for that.

Then again if you get in a rush like I do some times, just keep organized paragraphs, and remember you don't have to write down every little detail. Just make sure you catch the ones that are really important to your subject.

One last tip for you and then I will stop babbling. If you find yourself with a lot of notebooks and want to make sure you keep them well organized. You might want to invest in some large bins to keep them in, you can then mark them by subject matter, etc. I have a friend that actually goes one step further, she has taken a small recipe box and some 3x5 cards and has colored organized her collection of notes. Then when she begins a new story idea or article, she goes to her box, checks to see if she has taken notes on the particular subject before.

When it comes to doing the research, just be sure you capture as much information as you can that would help with your story. Learn your subject well. It will show in your story or article that you have taken the time to do the research and that you understand what you are talking about.

Happy Writing Everyone!

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


All Hail the Mighty Librarian

Librarians are beautiful, noble people.

I’m sure this statement needs a little qualification. There is this rogue rumor out there that librarians are stuffy, book guardians or silence- mongers intent on throwing you out of the library for the smallest audible infraction. But watch the face of a librarian when you say, "I want to learn how to research better." Their eyes will light up like Christmas morning.

When I began my freelance writing career in earnest, I called my local library, desperate to find out the best and fastest ways to find research for articles. I realized that five years of college had only showed me how to research to please professors, not produce a thoroughly researched piece of writing that would be scrutinized by hundreds, nay, thousands of pairs of eyes. Because of my “mommy-hiatus,” there were new, more powerful research tools available that I knew nothing about.

So I met with a librarian one-on-one. (Make note that if you would like to do this, call ahead and make an appointment to make the best use of your and the librarian’s time.) He showed me two library sections and one electronic resource that has helped me gather the information I need for writing.

#1 Where the Style Manuals Dwell

In the Dewey Decimal System (D.D.S) you will find writing style manuals starting roughly at 808.2. You can go to the nonfiction books and find style manuals to check out, or go to the same call number within reference section. I found it great to be able to test drive these often colossally priced books by looking through them at the library. Usually, the reference section will offer the most current edition of any of these books. On the self at my library were titles such as 2008 Writer’s Market, 2008 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, The Chicago Manual of Style and the AMA Manual of Style (this is used primarily in medical and scientific writing).

#2 The Marketplace

Around 050 and on in the D.D.S. is a section that contains books primarily about the publishing industry. Here lies the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media which could be considered a phonebook of sorts for print, radio, television, and cable companies. Nearby is also Literary Marketplace 2007, a contact book for over 14,000 listings of publishers, literary agents, distributors and events within the U.S. publishing industry. If you wanted information on the on the world-wide publishing industry, you could also look at the International Literary Marketplace 2007 on a shelf nearby.

The Encyclopedia of Associations lives in this section as well. This set of books is helpful to writers for two reasons: not only can you look through the book by topic to find a source for an article, but you can find associations with newsletters or publications within a certain field that you may want to query.

#3 Research in Your Underwear

The last, and I believe most helpful, tool that I discovered was my library’s online research database. An online database is a search tool that allows users to access millions of periodicals and academic journals. For instance, I did a quick search on breast cancer. I entered that exact term into my library’s database search field and it came up with 44,195 article s. Obviously, you would want to narrow that number so you can easily view the information specific to your article. The database offers suggestions to add to the breast cancer search, such as risk factors, treatment, and genetic aspects. When I click on risk factors, my results went down substantially to 1529. I can then pick between academic journals, magazines, or newspapers, sort by date or add another keyword to be more specific.

For me, as a wife and mom, having an online database at my fingertips means I do not have to drag two toddlers to the library for research. Most databases can be accessed via the Internet from home. All I need is my name and library card number to use the database (of course this can vary from library to library, so check it out.) I can put my hair in curlers, eat some chocolate, blare Norah Jones, and do research for my article without annoying one single, librarian.

While doing research for this blog, I spoke with a librarian who said they took whole, semester-long classes on the best keywords to use within database searches. (Can you even imagine?) I believe that most librarians are excited to share their knowledge of how to research effectively. After all, that is what they went to school for. Let these beautiful, noble people give you the tools to research well.

-Susan L. Eberling

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Saturday, February 09, 2008


Groundhog Day!

By Carrie Hulce

Curiosity got the better of me today, so I decided to do a bit of research on Groundhog Day. I wanted to see what facts I could find. I know that this isn’t about some great writing find, but, I thought it would be something fun to share with all of you. Who knows, maybe some of this information could be helpful for one of your wonderful stories.

I figured I would start off with the most famous Groundhog of all Punxsutawney Phil, that wonderfully lovable Groundhog that we hear about every year on the news. Heck, he’s famous enough, why not give him top billing. They even have a website for him. I wondered what information I could dig up about this interesting Holiday... So many questions were running through my head, I didn’t know where to begin.

First, I wondered about the life expectancy of a Groundhog, and come to find out a normal Groundhog only lives about 8 years. Good ol’ Phil has been around for 120 years, supposedly, he is fed a special elixir every year to help keep him going strong and looking young. Hey let me have some of that! Maybe I’ll get a little energy out of it.

From ancient times, we relied on the flora and fauna around us to let us know what was happening with the seasons, from this the time of year, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox was a time to watch for all, if certain animals such as the ground hog came out and saw their shadow, then more winter was on its way, which as many of you now was predicted for us. As the centuries passed this time of year became know as Candlemas Day, during this time, the pastors and priests would bless candles to pass out among the community to help light the way for the dark winter still ahead, to also bring good luck to the farmers for the future planting season ahead.

Around the mid 1700’s when the Germans settled in Pennsylvania in the Punxsutawney area, the Candlemas tradition was brought with them, they had explained to other settlers that if the Groundhog saw his shadow there would be 6 more weeks of winter, and thus, Groundhog Day was born.

Today, it is amazing at how everyone may celebrate this time of year differently. Many people now travel to see the famous Gobblers Knob to see the most famous of Groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil. How neat it would be to see him pop his wee head out of the hole look about then say, “To heck with this, it's still nap time for me.” What a life and what a great job. Don’t ya think?

This research made me think about the stories that are deep inside each and every one of us, and without the many talents of so many of you very creative and wonderful writers the tales such as Phil’s wouldn’t be around to share.

Just in case you would like to share some cute tales and maybe create a special tradition with your little ones, or heck, your little ones’ little one, I have found a couple of really cute books to share. You can find them at Amazon. I hope you will enjoy them as much as we do.

Groundhog Day! By: Gail Gibbons

Substitute Groundhog By: Pat Miller

The Groundhog Day Book of Fun and Facts By: Wendie C. Old and Paige Billin-Frye

Go to sleep Groundhog! By: Judy Cox

Happy Writing! And Reading!

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