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Research Forum: Usage Guidelines

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[Think of this as my “Ask Me about Research” thread.… ;) ]

This is a locked thread. Feel free to PM me (Ravana) about any of its contents. Or any of the other moderators; it will get to me eventually.



The Research forum is intended to provide a place for questions and answers concerning real-world topics of interest in fantasy writing. As such, it differs in several ways from the other areas of this site. The two most important ones are:

(1) It’s about the real world.
(2) It’s about research.

What does this mean? It means that the questions are being asked by people who want to incorporate specific, detailed, documentable, real-world information into their stories. They are not asking about fantasy elements (those go in World Building); they are not asking about writing or presentation (those go in Writing Questions).

Here are some guidelines to help keep this forum useful and productive for members. Please try to adhere to them. Post #4 of this thread contains examples for some of these; items that have examples are marked [*]. More will be added over time.

Things that ARE appropriate as responses to a question or discussion in this forum:
- Facts. –Or at least “well-founded empirical or historical data,” for those who see a difference. True, not all “facts” are universally agreed upon, and this becomes more true the less documentation exists on a given topic. If you’re aware of scholastic disagreement on a particular detail, it is definitely appropriate to present conflicting theories. In many cases, though, the facts will be non-controversial. [*]
- Details. –The more the merrier. Vague answers are often little more valuable than no answer at all, and can potentially be confusing. [*]
- Sources.
- Personal Experience. [*]
- Discussion of the above. –Ideally, supported by facts, sources or personal experiences of your own. If you think something posted by someone else is incorrect or incomplete, but aren’t sure, feel free to mention this, in order to elicit further information on the matter, or confirmation from others. Better still, check first, and post the results.
- Further Questions related to the topic.

Humor is also generally acceptable, though it may not be especially useful. Combining it with one of the above in your post is better.

Things that are borderline appropriate as responses to a question or discussion in this forum:
- Opinions. –If you are going to offer an opinion, state the real-world rationale behind it as well. Also, be courteous enough to make it clear that this is an opinion, so others can investigate and reach their own conclusions rather than mistakenly accepting it as “fact.” Unsupported opinions fall into the category of NOT appropriate. [*]
- Conjecture. –Should follow the same basic guidelines as Opinions, particularly the part about making it clear that this is conjecture. Some level of conjecture is acceptable–occasionally fruitful, sometimes even necessary where there is an absence of real-world data–as long as you have reasons to back it up. [*]
- Extrapolation. –Conjecture, but with significant levels of fact and solid logical reasoning provided to support it. Of all the “borderline” categories, this comes closest to crossing the line up to “appropriate.” [*]
- Uncertainty. –If you’re inclined to begin your response “I think that there is/was an X,” and you are basing this on memory alone, you would be better served trying to verify your information first… and the OP will definitely be better served. When in doubt, remember this forum is called “Research”: feel free to do some.
- Straying Off Topic. –While it’s tempting to say that this is not appropriate, sometimes digressions can provide the OP or others with information they might never have encountered otherwise. Please try not to stray too far, however, and strive to relate the digression to the intended topic of the thread.

Things that are NOT appropriate as responses in this forum:
- “Who cares?” –The person asking the question does. So does every other person responding seriously and appropriately.
- “Your readers won’t care.” –You can’t know this… unless you’re intimately familiar with the topic, in which case you should explain why you think readers won’t care. Even then, you could be wrong.
- “It’s your story; you can do whatever you want.” – This is not research. The OP already knows he can make something up. What he “wants” is either to avoid doing so, or to glean ideas founded in reality as a basis for doing so.
- “In my world I have an X that does Y.” –This is not research: this is its opposite. This is anti-research. The OP is seeking real-world information. This answer not only does not provide that, it provides non-real-world information. If your X that does Y is based on something real, talk about that… either instead, or at a minimum in addition to what you’ve been inspired to create based on it.
- Irrelevancies. –Straying off topic at least connects to the topic through a logical progression of some sort. If you can’t tell which one your intended response might fall under, stick to the topic. [*]

Most of these responses have their own place… but that place is not here. It is in Writing Questions or World Building, as the case may be. There’s no reason you can’t start your own thread on the topic in the relevant forum, if you want to discuss its aspects in regard to one of these areas; you can even provide a link to the Research thread to connect the two. Putting such responses here is rude to the person asking the question and inconvenient to others reading the thread for information. So please be polite and help maintain this forum as a useful resource for those who want to use it. Thank you.


Now on to some more cheerful things. The next pair of posts will lay out the groundwork for a new set of threads in this forum–lists of resources!
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In order to aid members in research, we will be creating and maintaining lists of resources. At the moment, three main groups are planned:


Each list will be handled slightly differently, but the basics are as follows:

(1) Anyone can nominate a resource for inclusion.
(2) Books and Websites can be given ratings of 1 to 5 stars. Anyone familiar with the resource is invited to submit a rating; these will be averaged for a single overall rating.
(3) Images, being more abundant, will be sorted into a “best” (most representative, detailed, etc.) and a “rest” list. A Gallery section for non-copyrighted images is being considered as well.
(4) Brief reviews can also be submitted.

New items will periodically be collated, sorted and posted, and existing entries updated. Entries will be broken out by category, then alphabetized by title. The categories haven’t been set yet; suggestions are welcome. At least until the lists start to grow, categories will remain general in nature; more specific divisions will be added as it seems necessary.


How to Submit List Items and Ratings:

For the time being, you can post nominations for inclusion directly to the list thread they’ll appear in. (If this proves too awkward to manage, we may create separate submission threads.) Or you can PM them to me (Ravana). The same goes for ratings. Reviews are handled differently, and are addressed in a separate section below.

Once the nominations and ratings have been processed, your submission post will be deleted. The reason for this is to keep the threads manageable and to keep all the information at the front—while at the same time keeping all the information for a given list on the same thread. As the lists grow, they will need to be broken into multiple posts; if the submission posts are not removed, portions of the lists to get separated from one another.

Please do not bombard me (or the threads) with every resource you can think of all at once. Quality is more important than quantity. You can always suggest more later. Taking your time also gives you the opportunity to go back and look at your resource again, to provide a better assessment: you may discover your opinion of its value has changed—for worse or for better. If you wish to submit long lists, these would be better handled by PM, so items can be sorted in gradually as time permits.


What to Submit:

Resources should be about real-world topics. A list of fantasy-based resources would no doubt be valuable, but it doesn’t belong in Research. Resources involving religion, mythology, folklore, and so on do count as “real-world” for these purposes.

Submit only resources you have personal familiarity with. Even more importantly, submit ratings only for resources you have personal familiarity with. Nothing is of less value to fellow members than a rating on a resource you’ve only glanced at once on a store shelf, or that you’ve looked at briefly but never made use of.

You are under no obligation to include ratings or reviews along with suggestions. Ratings for items you submit would be nice, as they provide an indication of why you’re suggesting the resource, but they aren’t necessary. Likewise, you can submit ratings and reviews for items already on the list: the more feedback we have about a given resource, the better other members will be able to identify those most useful for their purposes.

For websites, try to submit only those that are the most comprehensive and detailed, and, to the extent you can determine, which are themselves well-researched. Remember that there’s a lot of garbage out there. Don’t bother submitting Wikipedia articles: we all know where to find them if we want them.

For images, the higher the resolution the better: if you find an image at 100 x 75 pixels, try searching to see if you can’t find the same at 800 x 600. Using a magnifying glass on a computer screen isn’t a whole lot of help.

You are welcome to submit items for inclusion because they’re bad rather than good. If space starts to get cramped, these may get dropped off, but in the meantime you could be saving someone else from wasting time.

Additionally, you should provide the following information, based on the type of resource you’re nominating:

Books: Title, Author’s Name(s), Copyright Date.
Yes, all three. The first two should be obvious—and should be complete as given on the title page, including subtitle if any—and copyright date is extremely important when considering research resources. If the book is an edited, multiple-author work, give editor’s name instead. If the book is a translation, give translator’s name in addition to original author’s. If the book has an edition number, provide it: sometimes new editions differ radically from older ones. If the text is a multi-volume work, mention it; if you’re only submitting information on one volume, include the volume number.
Optional: if the complete text is available online, this would be a nice added extra to mention. If only portions are available, skip it.
Optional: if you happen to know if the book is in/out of print, mention this.

Websites: Title (home page name) and URL.

Images: Title (or name of what’s being shown) and URL (assuming it’s from the web), or .jpg scan (but see next section).

For all of these, it would be helpful if you propose the category you feel best fits the work. In many cases, more than one category may seem appropriate; in these cases, feel free to mention additional ones (something like Durant's The Story of Civilization belongs in every category…), but keep in mind the resource will only be listed once, due to space restraints. Some system of cross-referencing will be worked out over time.


What NOT to Submit:

• Anything that doesn’t deal with the real world. Fantasy works go in the “Novels & Stories” forum; other fantasy-based material goes in the “World Building” forum.

• Ratings and reviews of resources you know little or nothing about.

• Images which are not in public domain and to which you do not hold the copyright. If the copyright status cannot be verified, the image definitely won’t make it into the Gallery, though of course if it’s on line it can still be linked from the list. If you submit a .jpg, it had better be of something you have verified is in public domain, a photo you’ve personally taken, or one you can produce written permission to use. You will be permanently banned if you pass on as one you are licensed to use an image that is under someone else’s copyright. Period. This should go without saying on a site whose members are concerned with upholding their own copyrights… but it’s being said anyway, so there will be no questions later.


[continued next post]
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[continued from previous post]


Reviews are a bit different: those should be PMed to me. (They will still be accepted if posted normally, however.) The reasons involve space and uniformity: I will be editing these so that they are consistent in style, tone, content and grammar, and above all, short. Yes. Me. Short. I will also be editing multiple reviews together, to the extent possible, if we receive them, to produce a single review–or at most two, if radically different reviews are submitted.

- Reviews should be no more than 100 words, and as much shorter as possible while still containing useful information. Sorry, but “I loved/hated this book” is not useful: that’s what ratings are for–though you should still mention whether or not you recommend the resource, as a guide to me in setting the tone of the review.

- What is useful is “Contains numerous detailed diagrams/photos” (or lacks them), or “Has chapter on Viking shipbuilding,” etc. If the resource is a collection of articles, some sense of topics covered is useful; a complete list is not necessary. For webpages with many internal divisions, the same applies; you might also mention ease of navigation within the site, and of locating desired data. If the resource is targeted for a particular age group, mention it: this doesn’t mean it isn’t a good resource–some of the best are written for young adults–but members seeking it out might find this off-putting if not expecting it. If a webpage is related to hobbyists (e.g. the SCA or other historical recreation groups), mention this: some of these are outstanding, many will prove redundant with similar pages, no few are drivel. Mention the presence of bibliographies, glossaries, indexes, even tables of contents–all useful items for someone trying to find information rapidly. If you have knowledge about how well or poorly the resource is viewed in a relevant academic discipline, please mention it.

Don’t worry about authorial voice… it will be removed for length anyway. Substance trumps style here in a big way. Feel free to submit your review simply as a list of “Pro” and “Con” if you prefer, rather than trying to write it out; the final product may look a lot like that anyway, depending on how much information needs to be compressed.

Reviews will not appear in the same posts as the lists; rather, they will be indexed to the lists and grouped after them in the same thread, so that they can be sorted in the same order the entries are (and re-sorted when necessary), while leaving the lists themselves simple to read through.

I’ve Submitted Something: Then What Happens?

Then I go to work.

- Big Important Rule: Not everything that gets submitted will automatically be put on the lists.

While the lists will not be limited to the best items (or what I perceive as “best”–one of the reasons I don’t want to limit the lists thus is to avoid my own subjectivity), some resources may not be included if they heavily duplicate other items, reflect dated or discredited studies, or which we just plain have tons of examples of already. (Though over time higher quality resources will “bump” lesser ones in that case, so keep suggesting them.) This will be more common for webpages, as there are far too many to include all that exist; plus, as already mentioned, for images.

For webpages, I will also be pulling up the page to attempt determinations as to how well-sourced it is, whether its content seems to be upheld by other sources, even the date of last update.

Being poorly written is a great way for something to be disqualified.

Being in a language other than English isn’t an automatic deal-breaker (for texts originally in some other language, side-by-side original and translation is better than translation alone–another good thing to mention in a review), but English will definitely be favored.

I reserve the right to ignore submissions that don’t include at least the minimum information listed above for the resource type.


These guidelines may be modified over time, as the project is still in its infancy.
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EXAMPLES of Items Mentioned in Research Guidelines

Here are some examples of what is intended on the lists of “appropriate/inappropriate” contributions to research threads.

Example #1: Historians might disagree on whether England was ruled by a “Queen Jane” between Edward VI and Mary. They do not disagree on whether there was a “Lady Jane Grey” who was named by Edward VI as his successor. Ergo, the latter is a fact. That some historians regard the former as true is also a fact, regardless of whether or not it actually was true; in mentioning the former, one should also mention that there is disagreement about it.

Example #1: When addressing a question about the circumstances of deposing monarchs, a response such as “Some English kings were overthrown” is factually accurate, but of limited utility to the person asking the question. A more useful, detailed response would be along the lines of “Henry VI was deposed during the Wars of the Roses as a consequence of politics, tangled dynastic lines, and insanity.”

Personal Experience:
Example #1: If you’ve worn a suit of full Gothic plate armor, it’s personal experience. If you’ve seen others do so, and/or talked to them about it, it’s technically an anecdote, but is still reasonable to relate here. If you’ve seen it in a movie or on TV, it is not personal experience; you can present this as sourced information, but keep in mind the source itself may be of dubious value.

Example #1: “Why is the katana considered a superior weapon?” is a technical question: perfectly acceptable as discussion. “How does the katana compare to the longsword in cutting power?” is technical to the extent of actual demonstration: ditto. “The katana is the best sword ever made” is opinion.
Example #2: Saying “The katana is the best sword ever made,” without giving reasons why you believe this, is an unsupported opinion, and therefore falls into the NOT appropriate realm. It is of no value whatsoever to persons conducting research.
Example #3: If the question asked involves opinion in the first place, then responding with opinion is appropriate, though factual support is still desirable if possible. For instance, "How much research do I need?" does not have a quantifiable answer… though a response could still be supported by examples from personal experience.

Example #1: The route Hannibal took over the Alps is not known precisely. However, where he crossed the Rhone River in Gaul is known, and where he subsequently appeared in the Po River valley in northern Italy is known. Based on these, plausible conjectures regarding potential routes can be made.

Example #1: The historical price of red cloth. Facts: the preferred, superior red dyes derived from insects (kermes, cochineal) were produced in the Mediterranean, Poland/Lithuania, and various parts of Asia. Does this mean red was a color commonly available to the masses? Additional fact: all of these sources were supplanted after the discovery of America, by cochineal imported by Spain from Mexico. Extrapolation: if it was cheaper for all of Europe to buy a comparable insect-based dye shipped across the Atlantic than it was to use that produced in Italy and Poland, it is unreasonable to think that this color was one that commoners would be wearing, at least prior to that time. Red from other sources (such as madder) might have been available to commoners, but not this red.

Example #1: In a thread about historical dress styles, talking about the smell of a dye factory may be straying off topic. In a thread about swords, it’s irrelevant.
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Adding to the above guidelines:

If you are posting a thread asking for help:

1. Before posting, see if a search with a search engine will answer your question. A lot of the time it can. Wikipedia also tends to have a lot of information, so consider that too before asking questions. Why? Because it saves time - yours creating and checking the post, and other members reading and replying to it.

2. Pick a title for your thread which is specific and clear. A thread entitled "help" is vague and could be about almost anything. One entitled "Military formations of the bronze age" is clear.

3. Be clear and concise in your question. For example, "I am basing my society on Bronze Age Mediterranean societies. What military formations were used by these cultures?"

4. Provide relevant details to support your question. For example, if you need to know about military formations of the bronze age, you might want to provide worldbuilding details you have already decided upon, such as the availability of horses (are they common, rare or barely existant?), the landscape (rocky, arid, uneven, flat, swampy, forested, etc) etc.
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