- When you're doing research or looking for information on a
particular subject, it's important to know what and where your
sources are. You can find encyclopedic information on the Internet, on
encyclopedia CDs, and in a good old-fashioned hardbound encyclopedia
set. If you don't have these resources at home, there's always your
- Most of the time, an encyclopedia will give you at least the general
facts about your subject. You may have to check other sources for more
detailed information. Your next move should be to books on the
If you don't plan to keep the book, write in it, highlight in it, or
otherwise personalize it, you can check it out from your library--if they
have it. And you'll be able to use the book for a couple of weeks before
needing to return it. Or, buy the book
and then donate it to your library when you're done with your
- After you've selected several books for background information,
check the magazines either directly related to your subject-- or those
carrying articles on the subject. Most of the time, you'll find
magazines will provide you with more up-to-date and timely information
than books will.
- To find information on your subject in magazines, look in the Reader's
Guide To Periodical Literature at your library. This guide is very
useful. Under subject and author headings, the complete collection of
this guide will list articles printed in magazines since the turn of
the century. The Suggestions For Use section will instruct you on how
to read the codes under each heading. If you can't find your subject
listed, think of similar subjects that might be related.
- If your subject is part of a particular field of study, there may be
a special index that will help you. Among these special indexes,
you'll find: Art Index, Business Periodicals Index, Consumers Index,
Education Index, Humanities Index, Social Sciences Index, Biological
and Agricultural Index, and Applied Sciences and Technology Index.
You'll even find a Popular Periodicals Index which lists articles that
have appeared in currently popular magazines.
- If it's a legal topic you are after, go to your
local law library.
- To find information on the US Tax Code, visit www.irs.gov
(or call 1-800-INSANE).
- Most newspapers are goldmines of reference material--but you have to
be careful to sift the leftist propaganda and spin from real
information and that's not easy to do when reading most papers. Most
of the big city newspapers have computerized indexes. Several of the
special national newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal
also have reference indexes, and the Journal is noted for good,
- The New York Times Index is worth a visit, but remember this
paper is extremely left-leaning and not concerned with
objective journalism. The index is a collection of indexes of all
newspaper articles, so you aren't stuck with just the bad editorial
the Times engages in--you can get bad editorial from many
- Newspaper indexes list subjects
and people alphabetically with the date and page number. And usually
with the number of columns devoted to that particular story. About all
you have to do to avail yourself of this information is to stop by the
newspaper office, tell them the kind of information you're looking
for, and ask their help in locating it within their index. Then, sit
down with a box of salt grains and read.
Facts on File is a world news digest that's at most public
libraries. This is a weekly publication broken down into four
categories: World Affairs, U.S. Affairs, Other Nations, and
Miscellaneous. You may feel rather broken down yourself, after wading
through all this....
Editorials on File is a similar service that comes out twice
each month. It is a survey of newspaper editorials that span a wide
range of subjects. If you want to know about business trends, you should
ask for and look at the Moody's Reports. These cover banking and
finance, industry, and public utilities. Most large public libraries also
keep pamphlet files for brochures from various information services and
government agencies. Be sure to ask about these.
People as sources
- People can be good sources of information (they
can also be the worst, so select carefully). Ask around and more often
than not, you'll find someone right in your own area who is well versed
on your subject and can speak on it objectively. An introductory phone
call and an explanation as to why you're researching the subject will
almost always lead you to many people who will be glad to talk with you.
A trip to the Yellow Pages can get you started.
- Interviewing and talking with people will give you the chance to ask
questions and hear specific explanations about the details that may
not be fully covered in a book, newspaper or other publication.
- When interviewing, your questions should be open-ended--those which
do not allow for a simple yes or no. You should get the people you're
talking with to discuss their experiences relative to the subject.
Pose hypothetical situations, asking what they would do or what would
happen under a given set of circumstances.
Sifting through it
Researching and gathering information on a particular subject can be
fun, exciting and informative. It's much like putting a jigsaw
puzzle together; the closer you get to completing the picture, the more
excited you become.
Many people find that when they begin a research project on a specific
subject, they quickly uncover so many interesting related subjects that
it's hard to confine their enthusiasm to just the one subject. This is
what learning is all about, regardless of the use you eventually make of
the information you gather. The more you learn, the more you want to
Now, here's a warning. Most people form their views based on a
phenomenon called "group conformity." They then look for
"facts" to support the views of their group. This is not proper
research. It also leads you to lend authority to non-authoritative sources
and thus creates a situation where you are disinformed rather than
informed. You will have to make a conscious effort not to do this, unless
you are more concerned with conforming to your group than with discovering
the truth. You can still belong to your group, even if you
disagree--remember that, you will have an easier time of not surrendering
your thought process to others.
How can you tell good information from bad? Well, you can actually get
a degree in this area of expertise. So, this little article isn't going to
tell you all you need to know. But one key is to look for inconsistencies
in the information. Another is to look for fallacious reasoning, such as
the ever-popular cause and effect relationship that isn't there. Look for
emotional language--this is a cue that the writer doesn't believe the
facts can stand on their own.