Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 16 Jun 00 23:00
Reva Basch and Mary Ellen Bates are both long-time WELL members and librarians-turned-independent researchers. They've collaborated on several book projects, of which Researching Online For Dummies, 2nd edition, is the latest. They'll be interviewed by Linda Cooper, also a long-time WELL member and lapsed librarian. Reva played guinea pig /sacrificial lamb for the inaugural InkWELL conference interview back in October 1998 (see Topic 4), after the first edition of ROFD was published. Join us in exploring the joys and travails of writing a Dummies book, of collaboration, of dealing with a second edition, of keeping up with new developments in the ever-changing world o' the Net. Share your own online research discoveries, and pick up some tips from two experienced information professionals who know that there's a whole lot more to effective online searching than just plugging a keyword into a search engine and seeing what it spews back.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Sun 18 Jun 00 05:49
WELLcome, Reva, Mary Ellen! First, congratulations to both of you on the second edition of ROFD! But before we get into the book itself, I think everyone would like to know this: Are you still speaking to one another?
Reva Basch (reva) Sun 18 Jun 00 09:04
Heh! Yes, we sure are. This isn't the first book project we've collaborated on; I edited Mary Ellen's Online Deskbook and her Super Searchers Do Business, and she did the tech edit on the first edition of Researching Online For Dummies. She's a fine writer, and knows her subject, so there was no second-guessing there. And besides, it was my job to turn everything into "Dummies style," so I got the last word on everything.
Reva Basch (reva) Sun 18 Jun 00 14:57
On reflection, all that implies is that =I'm= still speaking to Mary Ellen. I think she's still speaking to me, but I may be wrong.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Mon 19 Jun 00 04:49
Yup, we're still speaking, although Reva did forget that I also edited her _Secrets of the Super Net Searchers_. Guess I edited that so lightly that she forgot. Reva's point about having the last word, particularly in turning everything in to the Dummies style, is a good one. Although Reva and I have never had this problem in our author/editor relationships, it *can* get testy when it isn't clear who gets that last word.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Mon 19 Jun 00 07:05
Ok, now that I know you are speaking, I'm more comfortable with this interview. (I didn't want to get into the "Tell Reva that I say...Tell Mary Ellen that I say..." kind of thing.) I'd like to start by pointing our a few inconsistencies in your introduction to the book. Most interesting to me is that you tell your "Dummies" readers that they are not dummies! I, for one, was happy to know that. Now, is this official Dummies(R) philosophy, or did you two just want to reassure your readers that they could buy your book with impunity?
Reva Basch (reva) Mon 19 Jun 00 08:47
It's both. If I'm not mistaken, that's the only occurence of the word "dummy" in any form in the entire book. Generally speaking, one is not allowed to refer to one's readers as dummies, even in jest. And yes, of course -- we wanted to play =against= the implication of the series title, which a lot of potential readers resist (and resent), that you have to be a dummy to benefit from the book. I resisted it myself, in fact, when I was asked to do the first edition. I have a sib who's developmentally disabled, and I'm uncomfortable with words like "dummy." "idiot" or "moron." "Dummy" is the most innocuous of the lot, I guess.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Mon 19 Jun 00 10:48
Yes, it pains me, too, when I tell people I co-wrote a Dummies book and then suggest that hey, it might actually be useful for you to read. If it's any consolation, I spoke with a corporate librarian last week who said that it had been selected as the textbook for a class on online research. I like to think that Dummies include everyone who's not a stone expert on a topic. And that includes me on a lot of subjects. I consult the book when I'm looking for info in an area I'm not familiar with. come on... embrace your inner Dummy.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Mon 19 Jun 00 12:01
Oh, I do, I certainly do. My Inner Dummy keeps me on track. Now, the second inconsistency in the introduction that I'd like to ask about is the librarian vs. "end-user" searcher you discuss. You seem to be reminding readers that a professional searcher could help them a lot with their research needs, but that your book can help them learn much of what they would need to know for their "everyday" searching needs. Are you really trying to teach your readers to become information professionals? Are you secretly acting as recruiters for a group of library schools? Are you giving your readers a taste of the magic? A part of the secret info pro handshake?
Reva Basch (reva) Mon 19 Jun 00 15:08
The last two, for sure. There =is= something "magical," if you will, about actually mastering the research process, or at least feeling that you have a grasp of the options available to you and some degree of control over the outcome. And hey, if anyone gets hooked enough on the process to actually investigate library school or to take a course in online research, so much the better. But the point of the book -- and of Dummies books in general, I think -- is to empower the reader in some way. We also make a point of letting readers know when they might be getting in over their heads. We say flat-out that we're not legal research specialists, and that if they're involved in serious litigation, they might want to hire someone who is. Same thing with chemistry, patent searching, and the kind of detailed business research on which multi-million-dollar decisions might be riding. Know your limits; that's very important no matter what you're researching or how experienced you might be.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Mon 19 Jun 00 15:18
<coop>, you know you aren't supposed to talk about the secret handshake!!! While, as Reva said, there are areas where we think that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing (legal, medical and patent research are my prime examples), there is lots of research that folks do all the time that we think they could do better with a little help and advice. What I think is important is to have a framework to help you plan out research - figuring out where the most likely places are to dig, as it were. We wanted to help people spend their time more productively online. If the Net's going to be a time sink, you should at least be enjoying yourself as you get sucked in.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 19 Jun 00 17:31
(Speaking of getting sucked in, if you are enjoying this conversation from outside the WELL and want to participate, send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
only taking care of the room (sd) Tue 20 Jun 00 02:48
I am enjoying this book more than I can say. I started using the net for research in 1994. I do not do it professionally but find that more and more I rely on online searching to fill the gaps in my work-related knowledge. I was not aware of anywhere near half of the sites in your book. Though I read it straight through the first time, it is in my laptop bag now so that I can use it for reference wherever I compute. I'd like to mention that I've been dissapointed in the tone of many IDG books since the first few. This title, though, takes off from the fun loving sprit of the first Dummies books and becomes something even more rich and entertaining. It is a fine choice for a gift to someone who normally avoids non-fiction. Speaking of the secrets of Dummieville. Are you allowed to discuss the editorial instructions that you were given to create a book to fit their style? Did you give the cartoonist any ideas?
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Tue 20 Jun 00 04:41
We didn't give any input on the cartoons - in fact, we didn't see them until we had the printed books in our hands. There is a pretty strict *format* for manuscript submission; IDG gave us a Word template that has specific formats for headings, subheadings, bulleted lists, etc. That makes sense - the production cycle for the Dummies books is pretty short, so getting the ms in a clean format makes a big difference. Fortunately, Reva shielded me from some of the details of the Dummies writing style (by dummifying the text before we sent it in, so to speak), but most of it is pretty straightforward. Don't use the passive voice, keep it friendly, don't assume that people *will* read it sequentially, and so on. My biggest challenge was toggling between working on the Dummies book and my other professional writing, that had to be more, um, straight.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 20 Jun 00 08:03
Thanks for the kind words, Alan.
this bag is not a toy (vard) Tue 20 Jun 00 13:40
reva, mebs -- isn't it terribly frustrating to write and publish a book like this one, where the subject matter is such a moving target? I was comparing this book to the first edition and there is so much new material.... and of course the subject matter is changing by the minute.
Melina C. Larson (pellmell) Tue 20 Jun 00 13:48
I'm loving the sense of humor in this book. It was enough to keep me going through two whole chapters as I was reading myself to sleep last night. Usually nonfiction of any kind is a reliable sedative for me. I've learned a lot already too. Not just about the specific tools that are out there, but about the brain of a researcher. Learning how to think about the search before you start it. I've always been sort of a just-dive-in gal, myself.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Tue 20 Jun 00 14:09
Melina, thanks for your kudos! Sometimes it's tough to know whether something we find hugely funny will translate well onto the printed page. And yes, learning about the brain of the searcher is what the book's all about. Stephanie, yes, it's hard to write about a target that's moving as fast as the Web. One blessing (although it felt like a curse at the time) was the short timespan between when we started the manuscript and when it came out in print. It was something like six months from when we started working on the 2nd edition and when we had hard copies in our hands. My biggest challenge was looking at a way-cool new resource and then making a cold calculation about whether it would be around in six months. And, of course, Reva and I both have folders of things we'll include in the 3rd edition!
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 20 Jun 00 14:17
I love the first edition. It made me an ace searcher. So... why do I want the new one?
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 20 Jun 00 15:54
About 80% of the specific, site- and resource-related content is new, Gail. The sections on "how researchers think" and that kind of thing haven't changed much, but as Vard suggested, just about everything else has. We found better sites for certain kinds of information, we "demoted" some formerly excellent research resources that have mucked themselves up in the course of trying to be "portals" or e-commerce sites, we had to document all kinds of changes in features and functionality. Plus, two chapters that we had to put on the CD because they wouldn't fit in the 1st edition are now in the text itself, which is much more convenient (we got a higher page count this time, which is how we were able to finesse that). And speaking of the CD, all the URLs have been changed and updated, and most of the shareware and freeware versions have been updated, too.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 20 Jun 00 18:09
What software does the CD include?
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Wed 21 Jun 00 06:20
Demo, trial or evaluation versions of Bullseye, Copernic, SurfSaver, Webforia Reporter and Organizer, WS FTP, and Acrobat Reader Free/shareware versions of WebWacker, FreeAgent, Eudora Light, and WinZip Full (free) versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator Also search tips for Lycos and Northern Light All are the most current versions as of when the CD was burned, late 1999.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 21 Jun 00 12:04
Cool! Thanks. I guess I will have to read the book to find out what some of those are for!
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:31
Or you could ask us! You know about Acrobat, no doubt, and the search engines Lycos and Northern Light (weird selection, you might be thinking, but those are the only ones that responded to our request to reproduce their Help pages). Bullesye, Copernic, Surfsaver and Webforia are all desktop tools for searching the web and managing downloaded information. WS FTP is a Windoze program for doing file transfers; I use it all the time for managing my web site, for instance.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:37
Desktop search tools. How useful are those, anyway?
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:39
I certainly need help managing the information I get. I can never find it again!
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