Authors generally love to do research. (Secret: It’s a good excuse for procrastinating—don’t tell anyone!). I’m no exception. That doesn’t mean I enjoy researching every single subject. I might look up some information on guns, for example, which don’t interest me much, but I don’t want to make any errors about how they work because people who do know become incensed if a writer gets something wrong. Many times I simply become vague. She pulled out her gun—not she pulled out her [brand of gun] [name of gun] and inserted [type of bullets] into the [cylinder/chamber/magazine/whatever], screwed on the silencer [make sure type of gun allows for this] and pulled the [safety/hammer/whatever] . . . Well, you get the idea.

But when something does interest me, I can get lost in the details.

Take wardrobe trunks, for example. Also called steamer trunks. They could be huge—as big as a telephone booth. They were great for keeping clothing in good shape because you could hang it up. Drawers kept other things organized. You didn’t have to unpack—just open up the trunk, and there was everything you needed.

Only problem—you wouldn’t be able to put it in an overhead bin, or check it at the airport. It took at least two men to carry it around.

But they could be the perfect solution for someone who likes to be super organized, like Tina Shaw, my protagonist in her professional organizer series. In Cluttered Attic Secrets

clutteredatticsecrets-08an old wardrobe trunk plays a small part in the story. Researching them, I found out they could have ironing boards:


Fold down desks:


And be as big as telephone booths:


Isn’t the internet great? I could find all this information in a matter of minutes. What have you been researching lately?


Yesterday’s writers had to have many books on hand, some of them called tomes because they were so large. Today, much information we need is available with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks on-line. Here are some great tools with their perks. But as always, be careful out there. With more good information, there comes more bad information, and even information overload. I believe in the old (not so sure it’s used very much anymore) journalism rule about having three reliable sources before publishing. Research is needed more than ever for fiction writers because many readers do reviews and will downgrade us if we get our facts wrong, especially about weapons and police procedure, I’ve noticed. I saw where one writer got the year a song came out long ago wrong and was called on it. Check those little facts, and the big ones. Our memories for such details are often a bit off. 

Here’s a list of sources I’ve found useful, mostly on-line.


Roget’s Thesaurus


Or buy the book. Handy, but many of today’s dictionaries also include synonyms and are easier to use, such as:

WordWeb Dictionary


Highlight a word anywhere on your screen, click on WordWeb in your task bar, and the highlighted word usually will enter the dictionary automatically, giving you the definition plus other information, such as synonyms. I only found this little trick by accident. Now you know about it, too. And of course, you can simply type a word into the search line, and if it’s not spelled correctly, a list of words that are close pops up. There’s a free home version and a paid pro version. Your pick. Highly recommended for ease of use.


Chicago Manual of Style

If writing fiction http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

$35/year subscription. You can of course, also buy the book ($65 on their site, but I’m sure you can find it used for much less). Actually, I like having a hardcopy for browsing—I bought one a few years ago. But the on-line version lets you make notes and style sheets. Having both would be heaven.

Strunk and White

Now a bit controversial. No official on-line site, but if you search for it on-line, you will find many sites that discuss it. I like to use it as a fallback guide. At least you can always quote it if someone questions you. And it’s short, very short.

AP Guide for Journalism


$29.95 for the print edition, but there are also on-line subscriptions for $26. Check the site for details. Some styles are different, though, for journalists and writers of fiction. Beware, double check with Chicago Manual of Style before doing what the AP Guide says to do if you’re writing fiction.




Free. This one is also tricky. Be sure to double/triple check references and to find other reputable sites that agree with Wikipedia. Beware of entries that Wikipedia itself says need work and references. I find it’s a good starting-off place and use it all the time for casual stuff, but I double check if I’m writing something for publication. Be aware that it’s not all written by experts or people who do good research. Look for citations there. Those could lead to very good sources. Remember the old adage: Consider the source.



19 cents a day, so a 365-day year costs $69.35/year after a 7-day free trail. Great reputation, but I’ve never used it.



Limited to what the Smithsonian exhibits, as far as I could tell. Free, which is nice. I’d certainly trust it.

World Book


Many choices–on-line, print, books for children here.


Medline Plus


Free. Has a good reputation, but it’s always wise to get another two sources for back-up.

Gray’s Anatomy

No, not the TV show, although if you search Google, that’s all that shows up on the first page. But I’ll leave you to search out what you’d need. There’s an on-line edition for over $200, books at Amazon and other on-line bookstores, and your local bookstore might even have what you need.


Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz. A great reference without the legalese. Available in both print and for Kindle. Leslie also has a blog on-line to answer legal questions.



I like What’s What – A Visual Glossary of the Physical World by David Fisher and Reginald Bragonier, Jr. 1990 edition, $8 for the print book, plus shipping, at: http://www.abebooks.com/What-Visual-Glossary-Physical-World-Bragonier/8074910918/bd

And some final advice: Learn to use Advanced Google Search. Start here:


Do you have research links you visit often? Print books you refer to often? Please share them in the comments. Thanks!