There Is A Wealth Of Information On The Net
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0ne of the most frequently asked questions I receive is "how do I find useful information on the World Wide Web?" For a writer asking the question, this can be difficult to answer. Writers need information that runs the gamut from finding agents and publishers to current and historical news and events to the latest celebrity gossip. First things first, though. Before anyone can begin their quest to find useful information on the Web, they must be equipped with the right tools. The basics needed to "surf" the Web are shown in the table.

IBM PC or Compatible Macintosh
CPU 486, Pentium, or better 68040 or PowerPC
Memory 32MB minimum 128MB recommended 32MB minimum 64MB recommended
Modem 28.8Kbps minimum 56Kbps recommended
Display 15" with 256 colors, 17" with 16 bit color recommended 15" with 256 colors, 17" with thousands of colors recommended
Browser Software Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher
OR
Netscape's Communicator 4.0 or higher
Access Telephone line or cable modem connection to an ISP(unlimited access-time option recommended)

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can help you with making your connection to the Web. Costs range from $20 to $30 per month depending on anticipated usage and connection speed (DSL is more expensive). Beware of low-cost offers, since they will probably mean slow connections and busy signals. "Free" connections are filled with ads and are typically very slow.

Now that you are equipped, fire up your software. Make sure all your settings and options are correct (your ISP can help you with the more esoteric settings). At this point, a default Web site will be presented, normally the Microsoft, Apple, or Netscape Web site. To gain more screen real estate, I recommend that you turn off the directory (Netscape) or Links (Explorer) tool bars and change the navigation buttons to text only. The navigation buttons you will be using the most are Back (takes you back one page or frame), Reload/Refresh (refreshes the screen), and Stop (stops the downloading of the page, file, etc.).

One of the first things you will notice is that the Web is slow, which is why some people refer to the Web as the "World Wide Wait."

TIP: If the logo in the upper right hand corner of the screen is in motion, then the browser is waiting for data from the Web.

The typical method of navigating through the Web is to click on hyperlinks. These are usually represented as colored underlined words or phrases. Buttons and some pictures can also be clicked on. By choosing a link you are transported to either another place on the page you are viewing, to another page at the same Web site, or to another Web site altogether.

TIP: To determine if a picture can be clicked on, move the pointer onto the picture. If the pointer changes to a hand, then the picture is a link.

CAUTION: Never enter personal information or credit card numbers unless you are absolutely sure that the site is secure and the company is reputable. Remember that the Web is not regulated, so a scam artist could be masquerading as a legitimate company.

Now the question becomes "Where do I start?" If you are interested in a particular subject or topic, but don't know where to begin, there are three popular "search engines" (sites that have attempted to map the Web):

http://www.google.com/
http://www.yahoo.com/
http://www.ask.com/

Note that a Web site's address is also called the Universal Resource Locator or URL. The basic idea is that you type in a series of words and phrases (phrases are enclosed in double quotes) and the search engine lists sites which it thinks are relevant. The more precise your search criteria, the better your chance of finding what you want.

TIP: To quickly go to a site that has a URL like http://www.sitename.com/ simply type the site name into the Netsite or Address box and press "enter." For example, to get to http://www.yahoo.com/ simply type yahoo and press "enter."

Popular news sources are www.usatoday.com, www.cnn.com, and www.bostonglobe.com. These sites present current and past issues along with additional information not published elsewhere. The Library of Congress is at www.loc.gov. The two most popular online book stores are www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Next time I will delve deeper into how to efficiently perform research on the Web. I'll also talk about how to use the Web to find agents, publishers, and professional organizations. In subsequent articles I'll discuss some places to go on the Web to find information on specific genres, such as young adult and children's writing, Christian writing, drama and playwriting, mystery, poetry, romance, history, and science fiction. Finally, I'll wrap things up with topics such as publishing online and creating your own Web site, and will give a "must see" list of sites for any writer.

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