Monday, March 30, 2009

Research, References, and the Power of the Internet

There are a few great things about being able to connect online, not the least of which is the vast amount of information in one easy click. Lately, I’ve been dividing my writing time between working on the WIP and researching for future submissions. That can take you to a lot of different places online, but for me, most sources are only the beginning. It’s like back when you had to write research papers and at the end you’d list your bibliography. Well, taking any one webpage at gospel would be like listening to the person who wrote the term paper over researching their sources... the sources are more accurate and the paper writer, if they’re doing their job, used that information as a springboard toward their own summations.

I check the stats on my blog every few days, maybe once a week. I like to see who’s checking my posts and where they’re coming from every once in a while. There are spurts here and there of various searches, but the ones that pop up at a pretty regular clip are my book club blogs on The Mists of Avalon. Other book reviews get regular hits, too, but the book club blogs on Mists get long and lengthy visits – always from University or College computers. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are some college students out there using my blog as a reference. Those discussions were pretty detailed. There were a number of them and the comment section in each was full of thoughtful insight by all of the participants. It’s possible that they’re reading them to get ideas for different aspects of the book to write about – I hope they’re not plagiarizing whole hog... in fact, I thought about pulling the posts just in case. I’m guessing they’re smart enough to know that their instructors have access to the same internet and might’ve stumbled across the same blog at some point.

But, thinking about it this way, how do those college students know that I even have any concept of what I’m talking about?

Over the course of dealing with people online, you get to know some whose opinions and thoughts you trust. They usually have some credentials to lead you to that opinion, or you’ve followed them for long enough that their perspective holds weight. I follow a number of blogs where I don’t even know the real name of the author. But I trust them because their knowledge has panned out and resonated – it can also be checked.

Some of the resources I like to use when digging into agent research or even formatting / grammar issues are the writer boards. There are a few good ones; I’m not going to point them out here because most of you already know about them. They can be a font of great information, if you’re careful.

I’ve had people correct the formatting on my ms before. Either format would have been correct, depending on who you were querying (I’d seen some editors who preferred one while some preferred the other – that’s a case where you double check who you’re querying first, and if there’s no indication, go with the ancient standard... mine was the ancient standard). I indicated as much in my response and they proved their assertion by pointing me to a popular and well-respected writing board... okay, the board might be well respected but the quote was by some writer who participates on the board who didn’t have any identifying characteristics and not very many posts to follow... there was no reason for me to take his/her word on it – I didn’t even know who the writer was... Just because the board is reputable doesn’t mean all of the active members know what they’re talking about.

A nifty little benefit to those in query hell is the ability to check the agents’ response time at various places. But then, too, that can be a distraction more than anything. If a lot of other writers post about a quick response time from an agent, but you’re not getting a response, that can make you do something stupid – like submit two days later instead of waiting.

While I check these things regularly when I’m researching, I’ve learned to take them with a grain of salt. Some of the posters are more expert than others – some are just kind of catty.

How about you guys? What’s your litmus test for researching online? What’s the best advantage for you? What’s the biggest peeve?


Ello said...

Hey Merry - when you say you check the stats - do you also check feeds? Cause lots of times I read posts in my reader but don't necessarily come to the blog unless I have a comment. Just a thought that your stats aren't accurate unless you factor in your feeds too!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Ello,

Actually, it usually registers if someone's reading me from google reader, but I don't check other feeds... so it may be that they read me on their reader and then clicked over here...

Really, I just kind of like to see where they're hitting me from, and the ones who stay on the book club blogs almost always find me from a search of the book itself. One I noticed this week hit every blog on The Mists of Avalon and spent more than four hours here... which makes me wonder if they were reading or copying it for a paper.

silken said...

not sure-I don't even know how to check the stats of my blogs like that!

what I was wondering though, and I don't know if this follows the line of your thoughts here or if I misunderstood, but I have found some of these ideas to hold true with grammar. for example, I am kind of "old school" in that I like to use lots of commas. But I am finding, as is my daughter, that the use of commas sort of varies from one writer/teacher to another. I had heard this before and am more aware of it now. So sometimes in her writing, I just point out where I would prefer a comma as opposed to someone else. (does that make sense? hard to explain)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Silken,

No, you're right. There have been some amendments to old grammar rules, like:

I was taught there's a comma before the 'and' in a serial sentence:

I bought bread, milk, cheese, and eggs.

But now, it's also correct to write:

I bought bread, milk, cheese and eggs.

I think either is technically acceptable. I always err on the side of old fashioned proper comma's - not necessarily on the blog :-) But I'm not at strict with grammar and punctuation here as I am with professional pieces.

So, some of the rules have changed, but I think some of it is teachers not being aware of the rules.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I recently read that the comma before "and" is the correct way of writing still, but that some editors will let the other way slip. Maybe we should look this one up... Hummm...

Lynnette Labelle

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Lynette,

The comma before the and is correct usage for British English, but not always in use in American writing... it's considered optional.

Here's a link where comma's of all varieties are explained in detail, from the writing program at Duke University:

Duke Writer's Studio, pdf

Jennifer said...

Hey Merry. Just wanted to let you know I am still reading your blog!! Will let you know when I export my blog to a better location!! :)

Thanks for reading.

Take care,

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Jennifer!!!

I'm so incensed for you I can't even stand it. It's a shame you have to relocate just because some nasty piece of baggage started harrassing you!

I have statcounter on this blog, it's the little icon at the very bottom of the right hand sidebar. That lets me see where comments and visitors are coming from and their location and ip address. Your troll was seriously malicious. You might want to think about setting up a similar program so that you can file charges if he comes back.

Keep in touch and definitely let me know where you are. But enjoy the downtime and don't let idiots like that get to you. There are far more of us sane people than there are of them.

silken said...

thanks Merry, I just bookmarked that writing tips packet!

Merry Monteleone said...

No Problem, Stacy,

There are some good online sources for this stuff, and you can usually find major University's handouts just by googling the topic and checking the url's for the university name .edu

spyscribbler said...

Really? Wow! That is cool! Mists of Avalon is in my TBR pile. I LOVED the movie, and it's one of those books I've always meant to read. I'm absolutely puzzled that I didn't read it ten years ago. Just one of those things. The universe must have decided I wasn't yet ready for it. I can't wait to read it.

Should I wait to read your blogs on it until I've finished reading it?

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Spy,

I think you'll really enjoy it! It's one of those books that's so vivid and detailed, if you read it a second time you'd be just as engrossed and you'd even learn a few new things.

Wait to read the blogs until after you've finished the book. It's all spoilers on those blogs because the discussion was for people who'd already read it and we got pretty specific. Let me know how you like the book! It's one I recommend all the time - I really loved it.

Mary Witzl said...

I don't know how to check my feeder -- in fact, I don't think I even have one. (Do I? Does everyone?) And the stats -- are they the statistics on your site meter? I feel so ignorant...

I'm not in the position to have to check research right now, as I'm not writing non-fiction, but from time to time, I get students who can hardly write a full SVO sentence, coming up with something that has to be Proust. Then I google a sentence or two and almost always come up with something. Most teachers find plagiarists, though: google may be great for plagiarists, but it's pretty useful for those of us who are trying to catch them.

That's way off the point, I know, but then I so often am...

Mary Witzl said...

(Ooh -- thanks for listing that reference for Duke University's Writing Course, by the way!)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

Not off point at all. On this blog I just use a statcounter. It's free and once you tool around with it, pretty effective in determining how people find you, how long they stay, all of that. For a case like Jennifer's - she had a troll who went past nasty and into racist harrassment, a statcounter is useful because you get the ip address of anyone paging you up and commenting, and you can see exactly which pages they hit and where they come from. Her troll likely has her bookmarked, so he's not coming to her from a specific site anymore. But, with the ip address, she can report him to the police and to his internet provider, which can get him banned and, in the even the comments are deemed legally harrassment, she could even press charges.

For me, I just use it to see where people are coming from. It's more curiousity than for any other purpose because I'm not using the blog for anything other than networking with other writers.

I'll be using google analytics at the company website, so maybe I'll do a post on that once I get a good grasp of how the features work. That's a paid service but it looks really inclusive, telling you not only how people got to you, but what paths they take and where you lose them or whether they stick around and register. It helps you tailor your online time and site.

I'm not fond of the fact that people are using my blog to help them cheat - and I'm pretty sure that's what they're doing. Some of the searches that lead them to the Mists discussion are things like, "Mists of Avalon term papers" - gee, not cheating are you? I've even thought of removing it, just in case some idiot gets away with it... or sending an email with the links to all of the english teachers at those Universities (in case any of the cheaters show up here, don't think I won't do it)

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