Feature writers tend to spend much more time researching and reporting their story than writing it. That’s because to write with authority, intelligence and a fresh perspective, you need a comprehensive picture of your story’s topic. Here are a few excellent guides and resources that feature writers should check out.
For a range of resources on interviewing, see Teaching Interviewing on J-Source.
For a look at the life from the other side of the fact-checking street, check out Cynthia Brouse’s book on fact-checking, After The Fact.
As promised by Sue Ferguson in Chapter 3 of The Bigger Picture, here are links to a variety of essential sources and resources.
Government records track two basic sorts of information:
Many – not all – public records are online. You may need to root around a while to find what you’re looking for, but here are a few places to begin your search:
* A number of award-winning features have begun with journalists creating custom databases that reveal new and intriguing information. To undertake what is called Computer-Assisted Reporting, you don’t need to be a math whiz. But it does help to know the basics of Excel and other tricks of the trade. Investigative reporter Fred Vallance-Jones lays it all out on his web site www.carincanada.ca.
Courts and Laws
CanLII is a website maintained by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, with a search engine accessing all Canadian legislation. From its main page, you can link to provincial court and tribunal websites, as well as some international legal information institutes.
Don’t stop here. See J-Source’s Government page for links to these great resources:
. . . and the Courts & Crime page for links to:
. . . and Business & Finance will take you to:
Freedom of Information and Access to Information
Not all public records are readily available. You may need to use the federal and provincial information laws to get what you’re after. Here are a few online resources to guide you through the process:
For a handy and thorough reference book to public records beg, borrow or buy a copy of Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide by Robert Cribb, Dean Jobb, David McKie and Fred Vallance-Jones, (Oxford University Press).
According to whom? Finding experts
Where better to turn for help on understanding an issue than to another researcher – someone who has spent years reading, writing and thinking about the very topic you’re investigating? Canada has a rich research community and most of its members are willing to share their knowledge with journalists free of charge. They not only provide insight, perspective and information, they can be invaluable leads to further contacts.
The global information commons
The United Nations houses numerous departments and agencies that conduct studies on everything from the world food crisis to international tourism.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development allows you to browse by topic or country, maintains a mountain of statistics, and includes a “resources for journalists” page.
And check out the International page on J-Source for sources following links:
Learning the Library
Online library resources are a researcher’s treasure trove. But it helps if you speak the language, and can recognize the signposts directing you through the system.
Librarian lingo: Boolean (the use of AND, OR, and other capitalized terms to limit searches) and Truncation (or “wild cards,” asterisks or other symbols used to expand searches) are explained on the Collections Canada site (Search Tips).
Database central: From your library web site you can access tons of journal articles, news and magazine stories, reference material and much more. These are organized through numerous databases. The following list gives you a taste of what some popular and some of the more esoteric databases have to offer. (Links are to websites with further information about the databases, not to the databases themselves. For these, you need to go through a library website.)
Canadian Business & Current Affairs Complete: articles from scholarly, popular and trade publications published in Canada, including daily news sources.
Canadian Newsstand: nearly 200 Canadian newspapers, large and small, with full text access to articles in some cases dating back to the late 1970s.
Factiva:draws from 14,000 news and periodical sources in some 160 countries, and in 22 languages. Holdings include 400 regularly updated newswires.
Lexis Nexis: includes US and some Canadian print news and news transcripts, company reports, legal documents, medical reports and American patents among other things.
Access Science: articles, images, graphics and videos from McGraw Hill’s extensive science collection, including its fully searchable Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.
Associations Canada Almanac and Directory: an annually updated index of 20,000 regional, national and international organizations covering both the private and public sectors.
Books In Print: literally millions of references to books that have been published in the past century, some reviews and electronic texts of out-of-print classics to boot.
Grove Art: popular and scholarly articles about the art world, biographies of artists, images and links to museums around the world.
Virtual Reference Library: the Toronto Public Library’s amazingly comprehensive guide to librarian-selected websites and research support focussing on Ontario and Canada information; includes a Quick Answer section with subject lines such as Calculators and Converters, Government Forms, Maps, and Weather.
Academic ASAP: includes full text articles from 2,500 journals in the humanities, sciences and social sciences .
MedLine: a US-based service with information on pharmaceuticals and health-related topics, as well as a medical dictionary and encyclopedia.
Be search savvy
Using a search engine is simple. But its simplicity is what makes both powerful and a potential waste of time. To get the most from your searching, scroll down J-Source’s pages on Web Searching and Tracking to find:
Also see . . .
Power Searching for Anyone
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: or, Why it’s a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources
Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources
Other reference resources online . . .
The Canadian Encyclopedia
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Canada Newswire Group
Refdesk’s Facts Subject Index
Library of Congress
The Internet Public Library