Use Google Alerts as a research tool. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Google Alerts, but for those who haven’t it’s a content change detection and notification service offered by Google. What it does is notify anyone who sets a Google Alert when new content is available online — on whatever search query you’ve denoted — from news sites, blogs, video sites and discussion groups and provides you with the links on where to find it.
Writers often plug their own names and books into Google Alerts as part of their promotional efforts, so they can keep track of any news stories or blogs or discussions in which they are mentioned.
However, Google Alerts can also be used in research. Currently, I’m working on a nonfiction book about Daft Punk, so I’ve set a Google Alert to notify me once a day of any new items related to the French music duo (and with the hit “Get Lucky” racing up the charts, there are plenty). In my contemporary fiction, I will sometimes set a Google Alert if, say, I need to stay up to date on a certain subject. In Baby Grand, I have a character who is on death row, and I wanted to — over the course of writing the book — keep up on any news or controversies that cropped up. Setting a Google Alert for “death row” saved me the trouble of having to scour the internet for these things; instead, they popped up in my inbox like magic.
Google Alerts is super-easy to use. Just go to Google Alerts, and enter your search query, how many search results you want and how often, and what email address you want it all to go to, and that’s it. Easy-peasy, as Sookie Stackhouse might say. :)
Have you used Google Alerts in your writing research?