By Donna R. Dolan –
The federal government sponsors top-notch websites free for the searching. But why search the federal government websites instead of just googling your question? The answer lies in quality. These websites contain trusted sources and the top experts in their fields. Of course, non-fiction writers should be acquainted with them, but they can also aid the fiction writer who has a question/problem.
Once you choose a website, the searching process is guided so you don’t have to be a subject expert yourself to use them. A sampling of these free subject databases and examples appears below.
A primary source for access to U.S. government documents. It is a “portal” which searches all agency documents at once in a unified way. As an example of how a fiction writer would use usa.gov, maybe Hope Clark’s Carolina Slade would need to know about the disease that killed Jesse Rawlings’ hogs. Just search “domesticated hogs diseases South Carolina” for a possible answer.
As an added bonus, the portal lists U.S. government grants. Just enter “grants writers” and your state name.
Criminal Justice: National Criminal Justice Reference Service – https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/abstractdb/abstractdbsearch.aspx
NCJRS services and resources are available to anyone interested in crime, victim assistance, and public safety including policymakers, practitioners, researchers, educators, community leaders, and the general public.
Authors of murder mysteries can find source material here, for example, the murder rate in Detroit or any major city.
Education: ERIC – http://www.eric.ed.gov/
ERIC is the world’s largest collection of education literature, containing more than 1 million records of journal articles,
research, reports, curriculum and teaching guides, conference papers, books, and more and more full text. It covers preschool through higher education.
An example of its use might be to find the relationship of an autistic child with his classmates for a character study.
Medicine: There are two excellent medical databases
MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health’s website for patients and their families and friends. It brings the layperson information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues. MedlinePlus offers reliable, up-to-date health information. It helps you learn about the latest treatments, look up information on a drug or supplement, find out the meanings of words, or view medical videos or illustrations. You can also get links to the latest medical research on your topic or find out about clinical trials on a disease or condition.
This source is especially good for drug side effects and overdose information, again for those murder mysteries. Find the lethal dose of a drug for a fictitious poisoning. It contains medical encyclopedias for diseases your characters may suffer.
More technical than MedlinePlus, PubMed comprises more than 21 million records for biomedical literature (including nursing and allied health) from medical and life science journals, and online books. Records may include links to full-text content.
This is the site you want for locating medical experts’ names and institutions for your non-fiction articles. See the publishing output of an author—that which makes him or her an expert.
Avail yourself of the federal government’s free databases for both your fiction and nonfiction information needs.
Donna R. Dolan is a librarian and freelance writer who lives in Albany, NY. She often writes about food and online information.