When I need to know, I ask the experts. I don’t ask other writers who most likely don’t know the answer. It’s a waste of time and not reliable. When I talk to students in schools about research I tell them the best choice always being a first source. Go as close to the actual source as you can get.
The internet does work in some cases. For instance, when writing about the Civil War era, I needed to know if Mason Jars were common or even in existence in 1861. I looked on the Mason Jar website under history and discovered they were common place, and were manufactured for five years before the war started. I consider the Mason Jar Company History to be a first source about their product. I learned games soldiers played using the internet on history sites and museum sites where careful curating ensures accuracy.
When I needed to know what it was like to compete in triathlon, I talked to someone who competed. She gave me great details, not from rule books, but from the perspective of someone who had to abide by those rules, the difficulties, the good points, the safety, how it felt to have to be restrained by those rules, what happens when a competitor doesn’t abide by the rules. She gave me behind the scenes stresses, amusements, and the triumph of finishing the race. This was conversation, but it was most definitely research and was exactly what I needed to know to write about it.
When I needed to know how to restore banged up cars, I didn’t ask writers, didn’t go to the internet, and didn’t go to the library. I went to someone who actually restores classic cars. In his driveway he showed me the tools he uses, what he calls them, how he uses them; he showed me the different compounds he uses, what they are for, how they smell, and how they are stored. I saw the before, during, and after of an old car. It took longer than an afternoon watching a YouTube on restoring classic cars. (I’m sure there must be one!) It took longer for certain, but being next to a first source, listening to his passion about his hobby, smelling the caustic smells, following his hands at work, and watching his progress all became a part of the story I wanted to write.
Whether you’re a writer, a student, or a curious person, when you want to know something, ask the person who’s been-there-done-that. First source is always the best choice when you have a need-to-know.