Back when I was about ten my parents bought the Encyclopedia Britannica. For years, they bough the yearly updates and I spent hours poring over the pictures diagrams and words in every volume. For school, it was a great place to start because everything in the volumes was sourced. So, not only did it give you the gist of the topic, it also told you where to look for more information.
Today, encyclopedias, and many reference books and library card catalogs have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Books at the libraries, at least the ones I go to, still use the Dewey Decimal system, but instead of a card catalog, you sit in front of a computer screen. It is faster and easier than looking for a card in a drawer.
The folks reading this who are under the age of 40 are probably thinking what is he talking about. Well, children who grew up using calculators instead of slide rules, that’s what we had before the turn of the century.
Enter the Internet and a new source of info – Wikipedia. To me, it’s the encyclopedia of the Internet. Type the topic into a browser (I love Google) and look for the Wiki site.
Yes, I know people can add stuff in there and there’s material in the site that is, well, not factually correct. However, I go back to my original point about encyclopedias, it is a starting point.
As a military historical fiction novelist, I have three audiences I have to keep happy. One and most important is the reader. Number two are the editors who help me out. They ask questions and fact check. And Number three are the guys with guns and badges.
Even though I am retired and no longer have a clearance, theoretically, I don’t have to run what I write by the Navy. To keep myself out of trouble, I use Wikipedia as a place to start and then go from there. The source files I keep on each book would allow me to say that it is “the public domain.” Call them my “get out of jail free card.”
So yes, Wikipedia is a flawed site, but it is a great place to start.