A long time ago, I wrote a children’s manuscript called Peculiar Plants. It was all about weird little shrubberies that did things that other plants don’t do. Most of them were rare, growing only in a small patch somewhere on the far side of the planet, so they were hard to research. And not being a botanist myself, I needed credible sources to vet my work and offer quotes. Back then, the Internet wasn’t what it is now, and it was really hard to find experts in the field, much less approach them with questions.
Luckily, the process is a lot easier now—if you know where to look. Kathy Klopp Cohen is here today to explain how, with just a few quick steps, one social media network can supply you with a whole list of experts in whatever field you need.
I opened a Twitter account some months back and had reservations about it. I already had Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, and email accounts, so was it worth my while to also add Twitter to my day? In a very short period of time, I realized that YES, it was worth the time and effort—but not in the way I had expected.
While researching my new mystery, I ran into a dead end on one question: If investigators find a dog at a murder scene in someone’s house, what do they do with the dog? Nowhere on the Internet could I find out what would be done in this scenario. I employed Google, Facebook, and emailed friends but came up with nothing. Then I thought of Twitter.
I got on my account, searched for someone listed as a policeman/woman, and found one in my old hometown who seemed to be fairly active on Twitter—in other words, he seemed to get on his account at least daily. So I tweeted my question to him.
Two minutes later I had my reply. Just like that! In TWO minutes, I was able to consult an expert in the field who gave me the answer I needed to write my scene authentically.
I’m sold on using Twitter now as a research tool. And since research is necessary for all authors, I’d like to share the process with you.
Let’s say that you’re looking for the answer to the following question: “When a surgeon is performing a long operation—for twelve hours or more—does he take breaks to eat, and if so, where and how?”
1. On your Twitter account homepage, go to the “Search Twitter” box at the top right. Enter surgeon there.
2. That search will take you to a page called Surgeon. Click on the search box, and a drop box will appear with a fairly long list. Click on the very last option that says “search all people for surgeon.”
4. As with any potential source, it’s important to verify that your new contact is who he/she claims to be. As you search your list, take the time to read the individual biographies under their names. The information they provide should include their full names, the cities in which they live, and their places of employment. In addition they should include links directing you to credentialed web sites, along with contact numbers you can use to verify their authenticity. Read some of their back-and-forth tweets to get a feel for their knowledgeability in the subject area and their potential willingness to answer your questions.
5. Settle on a few that seem to Tweet fairly regularly, since you’ll need your questions to be answered in a timely manner. Then politely message or tweet them with your question.
6.When you get a response from someone, be sure to say, “Thank you!”
If you’ve been looking for answers to questions for your story, try Twitter. It’s very likely that you’ll find an expert who’s willing to answer not only your immediate queries but also any others that come up down the road.
Kathy Klopp Cohen is the author of three mystery novels and several articles covering topics of linguistic interest. All of her writing has required research, and she’s very happy to share how Twitter has enlarged her research sources. She has lived in Omaha, Nebraska, Germany, and the Washington D.C. area and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can check out all of her published works at her Amazon author page.