Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

How Stuff Works®

By Ana Vicente Ferreira
© 2006,
Ana Vicente Ferreira


(www.howstuffworks.com)

I discovered HowStuffWorks® a few weeks ago while searching the Internet for information on anesthetic gases. This site was founded in 1998 by North Carolina State University Professor Marshall Brain, and it is a valuable research resource amidst the overwhelming amounts of information the net provides us with.

The information on the site is divided into eleven categories: Computer Stuff, Auto Stuff, Science Stuff, Electronics Stuff, Home Stuff, Health Stuff, Entertainment Stuff, Money Stuff, Travel Stuff, People Stuff, and Shop for Stuff. These categories are easy to access both through the tabs that always show at the top of the page and through the links at the bottom of the index page, where they appear split into subcategories.

On the site you can find answers to the most varied questions from How do energy drinks work? to How do bedbugs work?, and even If a child is born on an airplane, what's his place of birth? It also has the added advantage that, when you perform a search, the site provides you not only with results from the articles in its database, but through an association with Google, also results from other sites on the Web. Several search fields are spread throughout the page layout. This saves you the trouble of having to scroll up and down, or even go back to the index page, when you need to search for another item. The only downside to the search system is if you perform a search with multiple words you will get as a result all the pages found that contain any of these words. There is no option for a Boolean search, and the usual trick of putting the phrase you want to find in between quotation marks doesn't seem to help either.

The article pages are organized in quite a useful way, providing a clickable table of contents that makes it easier to skip all the information you don't need. Additionally, the table of contents offers access to a printable version that includes both text and images, to comments made by readers on that specific article, and to links to related content. The articles themselves are very complete with several definitions being given in sidebars to clarify the text, as well as links within the text to other items available on the site. At the end of some articles you have a section called "Lots More Information" with links to other useful pages and with information on either the author of the article or the sources from which it has been compiled, allowing you to verify the accuracy of what you just read.

On the index page, aside from the already mentioned category links and search fields, there are also highlights of articles that change daily. I have used this feature as a writing prompt by reading the five articles of the day and trying to incorporate at least one of the facts they refer to into a story. I've also used both the "Fact of The Day" and the "Quote of Day" for the same effect, though today's quote ("Travel, at its best, is a process of continually conquering disbelief." - Michael Palin) seems a lot more creativity inducing than today's fact (The diameter of the sun is 400 times greater than the moon's).

In short, this site can be extremely useful in getting your details right. Knowing exactly what you're looking for will certainly help you get a quick information fix, but I've found that simply exploring HowStuffWorks with no specific purpose in mind can also be quite rewarding. You should definitely give it a try.