(not) get lost while word surfing
By Paula Offutt
© 2005, Paula Offutt
The key thing for doing research on the 'net is to know
what you are looking for – or at least a ball park assumption. The Internet
is a vast resource, vast enough that a researcher can easily drown. Finding
a few main places to start is better than jumping right on the Google boat
or Yahoo! train.
If I am looking for a particular term, I know the
description but not the word, I often go to Wikipedia first. For example, if
I want to know what's the name of a horse's hip, I look up 'horse', of
course. If I have the word but don't know if it is the right one, I use the
WordWeb program. For example, if I have the word flank but don't know if it
is the same as a horse's hip, I look up just that word.
Wikipedia is a wonderful site. It is user driven which
means anyone can add or edit an article. It just keeps growing! When I enter
the word 'horse' into the search box, it sends me to the main 'horse' page,
with references to other meanings of 'horse', such as the Chinese calendar.
There are links to the rest of the page's main points; a list of 'see also';
and a list of 'external links'. Scrolling/clicking down to the anatomy
section, there is an image of a horse with its pieces parts defined. I click
the image and it expands. I can then save that image (public domain)
to refer to later.
WordWeb is a free program, although the paid version of
it is well worth the cost. It is both a dictionary and a thesaurus. Entering
'horse' gives me five noun definitions and one verb. I can click on any of
the definitions and it sorts the thesaurus results to show only those
related to that definition. What makes WordWeb the best though, is its
ability to work with any program. Highlight a word and hit <control><w>.
WordWeb pops up with the results. When you find the word you are looking
for, click on it and then click 'replace'. If it can, it will do so.
Obviously it can't replace the word on a web page or .pdf file. I have used
it with MSWord, OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, Netscape, Firefox, Thunderbird, and
all sorts of things in between.
But that's simple stuff, easy enough to do while
writing and not miss a beat. What if I need to know a lot about horses
before I start writing so that it comes out evenly? I could look up horse in
Wikipedia or perhaps even look up horse care.
What do I want to know about horses? I have a young
filly that is going to grow up to be a war horse. How old does she need to
be before she can be ridden? How old would she be at retirement? What
exactly is a 'paint'?
This is where I turn to Copernic, a software program
that is a search engine. It uses all the other search engines, gathers the
information, and filters through it. It will take out the duplicates (to a
degree) and will take out all dead or broken links. In this case, I would do
a search on horse care or perhaps adolescent horse care. Copernic can keep
the searches for me, on my computer, and will even download the pages so I
can view them off line. I can take searches and move them into various
If I need a more specific definition or usage, I go to
Bartleby's and look through their reference selection. Bartleby's has books
online, free, that you can do searches of all or just one particular books:
from History Encyclopedia to Gray's Anatomy, from Frost to
Fitzgerald to Oxford Ballads, from American Essays to Booker T. Washington,
you'll find the reference you need.
And don't forget Project Gutenberg! There are hundreds,
even thousands, of complete books, all public domain, that you can download.
For example, I was in the chat room and mentioned needing a power source
that is from the earth itself. Bob mentioned Nikola Tesla's experiments. I
looked up Tesla on Wikipedia and, among other things, I discovered he wrote
a book or two. I then went to Project Gutenberg and found them!
Another resource would be online clubs or groups for
that particular subject. Even some online stores have links to information
on the use of the items they sell. I found this out when I was researching
bows and again with leather craft. One retailer had a page of links, several
of which were clubs local to that area. But all three had excellent
definitions and methods on the use of various bows.
Instead of doing a search on Yahoo!, browse through the
categories instead. You can keep narrowing it down until you have exactly
what you are looking for. Or you could get totally lost.
When I start researching a particular subject, I have
to continually remind myself what I am looking for. I tend to start at Slot
A then sidetrack to Tab B, with the common denominator being quite vague.
Let's look at Tesla. I went to Wikipedia then later Project Gutenberg. Along
the way I read that he used radio frequencies as well. I meandered over to
the American Radio Relay League (ARRL, the leader of amateur radio in the
USA) and did a search there for Tesla. While I came up with some good
sources of information, I somehow wound up reading about satellite
propagation! I kept hitting the back button to see how I got there and
frankly, I still don't know.
Remaining on track is a third of the effort of doing
research on the internet. Another third is knowing what it is you are
looking for. And the final third is making sense of it all (mileage may
So be warned! When you go word surfing, you need to
remember where you parked your board!
Project Gutenberg --
Yahoo! category list -
American Relay League -