Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Blog Update: New Site Launching Today!

Last year I adopted the “Writer’s Guide to Government Information: Resources to Inject Real Life Detail into Your Fiction” from Daniel Cornwall.  I spent several months reading, editing, and fixing links in order to get to know my new site.

Because Mr. Cornwall’s site was so personalized, it was difficult for me to go forward, so I decided I needed to start fresh.  I will be keeping the main premise: presenting amazing government resources for the purpose of fact-checking fiction.  But I decided to change some things with organization and subject matter, so have created a whole new site:

Fiction Writer’s Guide to Reality: Government Information Resources That Provide Facts for Your Fiction

Here are some of the new features:

  • Posts are now organized by how they contribute to the development of characters, settings, plots and themes.
  • A new subject index will allow users to find story inspiration posts on specific topics
  • Resource Shelf will list all sites mentioned in the story inspiration posts for easy access
  • Blog post titles may not always be the main link listed
  • Government Resource News will alert users to new and discontinued sites as well as highlight general use sites
  • Site Graveyard will keep track of resources only available through the Wayback Machine
  • Reference Desk will consolidate much of the information previously in the Appendices section
  • Worked Resources, originally written by Mr. Cornwall, will highlight how one goes through the process of question and finding answered by step-by-step instructions
  • New topics will be explored and others will be expanded with exciting new posts

In addition to new posts, I will be migrating posts from this site for inclusion to the new site after editing/updating, which will bring some great resources back into the limelight for previous subscribers as well as new followers.  Those I take directly from the old site without significant changes, or none at all, will be attributed to Mr. Cornwall.

I am excited to start on a new adventure to find fascinating sources to bring to you and I always welcome your feedback.


Post-World War II Residential Architecture in Maine: A Guide for Surveyors

Post-World War II Residential Architecture in Maine: A Guide for Surveyors – http://www.maine.gov/mhpc/architectural_survey/docs/20100630FINALFINALlower-1.pdf

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is the difference between a raised ranch and a split level?
  • What styles of homes can you find in Bangor Maine?
  • What type of siding is found on Neo-Colonial homes?

Your characters need to live somewhere and often the story will have them coming and going from a residence…but do you know the architectural differences between homes? This guide is a great start to figuring out those differences.  While this particular guide is focused on Maine residences, you can easily find surveys and guides to cities and states around the country.

Here are a few more that may be helpful:

http://www.chesterfield.gov/content2.aspx?id=8590048180&terms=home%20guide – Home Modernization Guide by Chesterfield County of Virginia

http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/oha/styleguide/styleguide.htm – Architectural style guide by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of History and Archaeology

http://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/survey/survey/architectural%20styles%20residential.pdf – Architectural Styles: Residential by the Texas Historical Commission

Early Psychiatric Hospitals and Asylums

Early Psychiatric Hospitals and Asylums –  https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/early.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • When did psychiatric hospitals begin in this country?
  • What were some of the arguments for and against physical restraint?
  • What roles did the Quakers play in the history of psychiatric hospitals?


I have toured two of Thomas Kirkbride’s buildings, which were fascinating, and this could come in handy if your story or characters find themselves in a hospital or asylum in the 19th century.  This is just one page of the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s, “Diseases of the Mind: Highlights of American Psychiatry through 1900.” This site also has short biographies of 19th Century psychiatrists, including Kirkbride, as well as other short descriptions of related topics.  The timeline starts in 1752 and goes through 1890 with links to certain buildings and some digitized primary sources.

JFK Assassination Records

JFK Assassination Records – https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release


This page lists out the individual documents released in July and October of 2017.  Organized by release date, these documents sometimes have titles that help to determine what the actual document is, but often may not.  While the  JFK Assassination Collection Reference System does have the older print-only documents released in the 90’s, they don’t yet have the documents released this year, so finding specific documents could be a challenge.

Librarians and Library Assistants (Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Librarians (Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Library Techs and Assistants  (Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Representative questions that can be answered with these resources:

  • What does a librarian actually do?
  • What kind of degree does one need to become a librarian?
  • What are the differences between school, public, and academic librarians?
  • How much do library assistants make?
  • What would a typical work schedule look like for a library assistant?

Librarian characters seem to be some of the most difficult to write without stereotypes creeping in.  Almost always a woman…either of worthy of the title of bombshell or frumpy with a super high I.Q.  Often we are portrayed as guardians of quiet spaces who spend most of our time reading books on the clock.  Yeah…not so much.

Also, not everyone who works in a library is a librarian.  I haven’t seen many library assistant characters in fiction, so adding one to your story might be a great way to try a new path.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook sites are good starts to building a librarian or library assistant character, but for more detail to get a good feel for the day-to-day realism you may want to check actual job descriptions.

https://mblc.state.ma.us/jobs/find_jobs/index.php   The site allows you to filter your results by type of library (academic, public, etc.) as well as education level since this particular site shows library assistant as well as librarian jobs.

Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry (National Institute of Justice)

National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry Page:

Representative questions that can be answered by this resource:

  • What does a Forensic Dentist do?
  • What kinds of research would a Forensic Anthropologist undertake?
  • What are some techniques for fingerprint identification?
  • How do you distinguish between saw and knife wounds in bone?

This page gives basic descriptions of the professions and lists many of the grants they have awarded in the past year, which can give an idea of the types of research being done in this area.   It also has links to some fascinating guide books:

Fingerprint Sourcebook (422 pages)
Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach (248 pages)
Knife and Saw Toolmark Analysis in Bone: Manual for the Examination of Criminal Mutilation and Dismemberment (47 pages)

Ready to Go

I decided that before diving in too deeply at first I should get to know the blog better, so I spent a good portion of the summer reading, link checking, and discovering the wonderful resources that Daniel had collected.  And I am so glad I did.  Not only did I learn about resources new to me, but I also started to understand the structure.  I fixed many links and grumbled a lot when I got to the section of Marine Corps pdfs that were dead and laughed when I found Daniel’s post with his own grumblings about fixing that same section.

So now I’m at the point where I want to start adding posts more frequently and making this blog active again.  I’m more than happy to add things of my own interest…or even more to categories that I found didn’t have as many entries…but again, I would love to hear feedback on what you need.  So don’t hesitate to contact me with ideas or questions.

Ok…now the fun begins.   🙂



Calling All Writers: Looking for New Blog Post Ideas!

I am very much enjoying reading, editing, fixing links, and thinking about new directions for the blog.  I have only added one new post, but would like to hear from everyone about what topics you would like to see added.  Is there a subject that isn’t covered or could be covered differently?  Please send me any ideas you have.  Also, if you run into a real-time research question while writing, feel free to contact me.  

Bee Sting Allergies

Stinging Insect Allergy page from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (linked provided by MedlinePlus) – http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/stinging-insect-allergy

Often people will refer to being stung by saying, “I was stung by a bee,” so “bees” or “honeybees” tend to get a bad rap.  Just as likely they may have been stung by a yellow jacket, hornet, or wasp.  They also have different kinds of venom, so if one were allergic to honeybees, they would not necessarily have a reaction from a wasp sting.

Representative questions that can be answered by this resource:

  • What are the differences between bees, wasps, and hornets?
  • How do you identify different insect nests?
  • What is the best way to treat a sting?
  • What are the symptoms of a severe reaction?


Overview on insect stings including identification of insects, prevention, treatment, and link to finding an allergist/immunologist.

More links on this subject:

Medline’s Insect Bits and Stings page – https://medlineplus.gov/insectbitesandstings.html
ees, Wasps and Hornets Brochure by the NJ Beekeepers Association – http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/beeswaspshornetsbrocure.pdf
edline’s Allergy Shots page  – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000405.htm

Hello from Kari Mofford

I am honored to be the new owner of this blog and a big thank you to Daniel for creating such a wonderful resource as well as for all his current (and future) help.

A little about me…I have been an academic librarian for almost 20 years with experience in reference/instruction, interlibrary loan, acquisitions, and access services.  I am currently the Undergraduate and User Services Librarian and Chair of the Access Services Department at UMass Dartmouth.  I am also subject liaison to English Composition.  My colleague and I run a dystopian/science fiction book club here at the library for faculty, staff, and students.  Other interests are backyard beekeeping with my husband and teaching yoga part-time on campus.

I am an avid reader, but actually “listener” might be more precise as I have a considerable commute and make the most of this time with audiobooks.  My fiction tastes have run from gamut over the years with a strong emphasis on fantasy/science fiction/dystopian fiction and lately I have been enjoying mystery cozies.  My TV tastes tend to run in the same direction…Buffy probably being my all-time favorite.

So while I love being immersed in a wonderful story…it only takes a one incorrect fact to pull you out of that state and the experience is completely altered.  This is what I loved about this blog, not to mention the mission to use government information, which appeals to my information literacy side.  And I very much appreciate the astronomy section of this blog, as my first job after college was part-time at Sky & Telescope Magazine and part-time in the library at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

This is my first blog, so I will be taking time this summer to really analyze the material and start planning how I want it to move forward.  In the beekeeper world, this would be akin to starting off with a nucleus hive (something already established… a mini version of a hive) as opposed to a package of bees that you put in an empty hive with just foundation frames for them to build out.  See “Basic Beekeeping Techniques” under  https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/beekeeping to learn more about starting a hive.

I want to find the best way to proceed that will both honor the original mission while exploring new ways to grow.  This will take time, so please be patient with me as I start this journey.  I look forward to working with Daniel and I welcome your feedback or ideas…so please contact me…Really.  🙂

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