Yes, I know you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet, but I love being able to use it for research. When I first started writing (back in the dark ages), if I needed to research something, I had to drive at least 20 miles to reach the nearest large library, and even then I wasn’t sure I’d find the information I needed. At that time it was also difficult for me to call professionals and ask for information; after all, I wasn’t published. Why would they talk to me?
They did, of course, talk to me, and once I was published, those calls were easier for me to make. But I’m not one who likes to talk on the phone, and often a call wouldn’t give me the information I needed right when I needed it.
I encourage all writers to call and interview professionals. You’ll always learn more than what you expect as the person you’re talking to relates personal experiences. And if you’re writing anything that involves law enforcement, I encourage you to attend the Writers’ Police Academy that Lee Lofland has been putting on for several years now, attend conferences that have “hands-on” sessions or professionals talking about their jobs, and join the crimesceenwriters yahoo group. But if you need information right now…or can’t afford to attend a conference or the WPA, the Internet can be a blessing.
For example: The other day, for my wip, my police officer is looking at his new Ford Interceptor SUV. Great. I have no idea what one of these vehicles looks like, what equipment it comes with, if it’s a push button start, or if the officer will need a key to start it. I had lots of questions, so I did a few Google searches for the vehicle and for its equipment.
An hour later, after I’d watched two videos, I had the answers to my questions. (No key fobs for the version sold to law enforcement. Only a key. And the vehicle needs to be locked using a key. (I guess that’s to keep the officer from leaving his keys in the car.) The videos also showed me the interior, and I could see exactly where the equipment would be place. Also, front seats are covered in cloth; back seat in vinyl (probably to make cleaning up after hauling a drunk to jail easier). A visit to a few on-line sites selling the equipment gave me an idea of what my officer might have installed in his new Interceptor.
I’ll only use a little of what I learned, but I feel more confident now that whenever I have a scene where my officer is in his new Interceptor, what he does and the equipment he’ll use will be correct.
For that same wip I also needed to see how cane fighting is done, especially how the elderly can use a cane as a weapon. I may still try to take a class in cane fighting (it is taught where I stay in the winter), but for now watching videos is really helping.
So NO, don’t depend on sites like Wikipedia for your research, but there is a lot of information on the Internet that can help you make your writing sound as if you really do know what you’re talking about.
It’s the old saying, write what you know…or what you’ve recently learned.