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I tend to run into a bunch of domain-specific questions when I'm writing, such as:

  • What happens to a jet flying at low altitude, at super-sonic speeds, when its cockpit gets breached?
  • What's the maximum range of a radio signal?
  • What accuracy is experienced by a person with average training shooting at birds?

For many of these questions, "ask a friend" is the best I can do. Are there places online that cater to writers looking for people knowledgeable in specific areas?

So far the best place I've found is NaNoWriMo's Reference Desk (especially active in November). How else can I look for esoteric details and find people who can answer my research questions?

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What about the appropriate Stack Exchange site? –  justkt Feb 27 '12 at 19:07
    
Protected to prevent one-line answers that are just links or a few words. –  Neil Fein Feb 27 '12 at 21:37
    
Edited to encourage full answers rather than individual links. Hey, you got a moderator full house! –  Standback Feb 27 '12 at 21:42
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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A all-questions-welcome resource will, almost inevitably, be less helpful than finding pertinent resources for the specific topics you're asking about. And that'll be a case-by-case process.

The general workflow will be:

  • Figure out which field your question falls into (e.g., physics; architecture; survival skills)
  • Google "[Field Name]" together with keywords such as "community," "forum," etc.
  • Browse through the results until you find something that seems appropriate - some site on the topic with a public forum; a newsgroup; a LiveJournal community; a chat room. Make sure to read through to be certain your question won't be wildly out of place.
  • Post your question. Explain that you're looking for detail for a story you're writing; be sure your question is clear and detailed; be polite and appreciative. Mention that you'd be happy to hear of other appropriate resources.

This process is great for a single detail, but if you find that your work is dealing heavily with a particular topic, you really need to do your own research - you won't get by giving a fair portrayal of desert survival or Victorian England just by asking other people about the occasional detail. For greater involvement, you want to find good sources on the subject - generally books. You can search yourself for books that cover the topics you need; if you're not sure or want a second opinion, you can follow the above process to ask for specific recommendations. Be sure to explain exactly what topic you're researching, and what kind/style/level of books you think will be best for you.

Beyond this, there are many communities based on answering specific questions on a wide range of topics. These are certainly worth trying out, particularly as an initial avenue. These include:

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protected by Neil Fein Feb 27 '12 at 21:36

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