Research Resources for Your Strangest Writing Questions

If only a person's browsing history disappeared when she died, writers could Google with a lot more confidence.

Anyone who's researched a crime thriller has a browser history full of searches like "best way to hide a body" and "how to get away with the perfect murder" -- not exactly something you want anyone to see when you're no longer around to explain it. And if you've ever Googled potentially embarrassing medical questions, well, good luck convincing anyone that it was just research.

But potential embarrassment aside, the Internet is a priceless gift for the average writer. A few decades ago, it took a trip to the library to answer random questions about diseases that affect pet rabbits and the typical setup of a Victorian-era bathroom. 

Visiting the local library is still a joy for writers, but it's no longer necessary to enlist the help of a reference librarian to dig an answer out of the dusty stacks. Social media, blogs, and online newspaper archives are just a few of the best resources for writers.

And then, of course, there are the Old Faithfuls: the sites where you can always find answers.

Here is my list of go-to resources for your perusal:

  1. Reddit. Any question you've got, you'll likely find it's been discussed in great detail on Reddit. If it hasn't already been covered, you'll probably find that Redditors are ready and willing to weigh in immediately.
  2. Quora. Instead of Reddit's message board format, Quora users can ask questions and provide answers for categories that are familiar to them. This sometimes yields useful tidbits of information. My favorite part? The users answering your questions explain how much experience they have.
  3. Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a fact-seeker's best friend. (Of course, it's important to distinguish between "finding answers" and "finding correct answers." Track all those Wikipedia facts to their original sources!)
  4. Read a book. Authors like Mary Roach and Bill Bryson have written books that are as deeply informative as they are entertaining. Check out Roach's Stiff if you have a morbid curiosity about cadavers, while Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything attempts to shed light on prehistory, from the dawn of time to the rise of civilization. 

Of course, some questions aren't so easy to answer. Every writer has found herself following search engine breadcrumbs into medical chatrooms and badly designed conspiracy sites.

In instances like these, you may find answers in unexpected places.

Take, for instance, the time I was fact-checking a client's manuscript. A character had swallowed a ring and hadn't yet - um - expelled it six days later. Instead of finding the answer on a gastroenterology website, I found it on a mommy blog article about a kid swallowing a coin and how long it was before nature took its course.

Inquiring minds want to know: where do you find answers to your most random queries? Share your sources in the comments below!