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Tips for online research: Editor's Notes #317
July 08, 2020

Fear not those who argue but those who dodge.
—Marie Ebner von Eschenbach

In this issue:

1. Tips for online research
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt
5. My Covid-19 offer to you

1.Tips for online research
Online information is mind-boggling and a double-edged sword. You can find almost any facts you want online, and the search can resemble dumpster diving in that you may wade through real garbage in your quest for treasure.

A few tips for online research for writers save you time and energy.

Unless you know nothing at all about a topic, narrow your search to stay out of the weeds. Have a clear question, and enter key words from the question in the search box. Search for "turtle diseases" instead of turtles or "Idle no More" instead of Canadian racism. On the other hand, if you really don’t know where to start, opens a topic and includes links to other resources.

Even when you start with a narrow focus, the endless links online can take you places that will not help you with your project. When I see interesting side-lines while researching, I create a file of links I can go back to when I have time or when I realize that my original focus is not working out as planned.

Put on your skeptic hat when looking at the search results. Search engines such as Google put ads at the top (and sometimes also at the bottom) of the page. The ads are labeled as such. If I were reading a magazine article to research a topic, I would not consider the ads on the page to be in the same category of reliable information as the article by an expert. The same is true for ads online. Scroll down until you pass at least the ads.

Ads are not the only source of dubious content. Check the credentials of any writer online with the same care you would check the credentials of another author. When I’m looking for facts, I use academic sites, government sites, and sites run by other recognized experts. Search LinkedIn for writers you have no other information on. Sometimes even a Facebook search helps to evaluate the expertise of someone you don’t already know about. Ask, "What is this person’s interest in this claim?" If someone writes that only a certain product will cure turtle eye infections, I smell snake oil and leave the site immediately.

Not all competing ideas are worthless. Many topics have legitimate alternative viewpoints, and it is helpful to know at least the main disagreements. Always consider the source when there is a disagreement with the mainstream view.

Reputable sources link to their own sources. Look for those links, and follow them until you find primary sources if possible. If there are no links to sources and you are still interested in the material, contact the writer with questions. It can be helpful to use a dedicated email address for such queries to protect yourself from spam. I also keep my personal life out of any such correspondence. This is business.

Done with care, online research can yield rich rewards without consuming all your time.

2.Tickled my funny bone
On a repair shop door: We can repair anything. Please knock. Bell does not work.

3. Interesting Web site
Find your own expert or offer your expertise on this site. I’ve used it successfully in both roles.

4. Writing prompt
Write a list of 15 questions you can’t answer. Choose one to research. Could this be the way forward for a current writing project or the seed of a new one?

5. My Covid-19 offer to you
My experience of Covid time is that it is perversely either rushing by at a breakneck pace or at a complete standstill or doing both at once. If this time urges you to take your writing to a new level, my Covid-19 offer to you may be of interest.

What follows is a copy and paste from issue number 309. It’s still in force for you and anyone you choose to tell about it.

Along with the health threat hanging over the world, we are facing a huge financial hit. I’ve decided one thing I can do is to make quality editing less expensive during this trying time.

For subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends, I am suspending the fee for the sample edit to anyone using the code EN19 until I cancel this offer. I intend to keep this offer open as long as the world is in crisis with Covid-19 and its aftermath, so watch this space. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer. You can submit your writing sample at Be sure to click the link below the heading "Promotion Code" to get to the special form for a free sample edit. If you find yourself at a form before clicking the special link, scroll slowly back up the page, and you should see the link for the code (EN19).

But it gets better…

When I return an edited writing sample, I include quotes for the full range of my editing services. Until further notice, I will give a true quote, but I will not charge writers the full amount. I am discounting my services 50% for subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer.

Feel free to pass this offer along to any writing friends you think may be interested. As long as anyone uses the code, I’ll honour the offer.

This is what I can offer you in this time of crisis. I hope it encourages you as you face possible illness and financial uncertainty.

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