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What To Do When You Have Questions

From its beginning, ORB's intention was to open and encourage a dialogue between our readers and our writers. Many of our authors publish their e-mail addresses and invite questions and comments. That does not mean, however, that they are willing to do homework for students (or for parents helping students with their homework). They cannot take the place of the books and articles that those of you interested in the Middle Ages should be reading for yourselves. They cannot answer every question you might have, and they do not have time for extended interviews with whole classes of students trying to complete assignments by deadline. They are, in fact, busy scholars, who have multiple responsibilities in their own academic institutions -- books to write, committees to chair, classes to teach, and students to counsel. Their contributions to ORB have been extraordinarily generous and their services are entirely unpaid. We hope you will respect their time and efforts by making every effort to find the answers to your questions in other places before you contact one of our writers.

When you need a piece of information, the best place to start may be our FAQ section for the nonspecialist. If the answer is not there, try reading the appropriate chapter from one of our online textbooks, or consult the appropriate heading in our Encyclopedia. Still haven't found the answer? Perhaps it is time to extend your research beyond ORB. Here are some links that will guide you to alternate sources of information:

  • Medieval Studies in the Schools, ed. John Houghton.
    This website is sponsored by The Secondary Schools Outreach Initiative of TEAMS, the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages, Inc. It offers excellent guidance for high school students doing web-based research, including this nugget: "As a rule of thumb, if a person has published something on a subject you are interested in, you should read that publication before you try to contact the author."

  • Researching the Middle Ages: A Guide for Students, by Sally Foulkrod, Librarian, The Solebury School, New Hope PA,
    This site, written by a librarian and sponsored by the Richard III Society, American Branch, offers a step-by-step guide for secondary school students.

  • Help!
    Paul Halsall, editor of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook provides suggestions to any user of serious online resources who is looking for more information.

  • Some Tips for Writing History Papers, by Paul Hyams.
    Prof. Hyams suggests ways to research and write a college-level history paper.

If you have followed these procedures, you should address your unanswered questions to an expert in the field, such as one of our writers or editors. But remember that they are busy people, who get paid for delivering the kind of information you are seeking for free. Here are some guidelines:

  • Identify yourself by name (not cutesy e-moniker), by age or educational level, and by the purpose of your inquiry.
  • Demonstrate your sincerity by telling the recipient what steps you have taken to find the answer on your own.
  • Ask a specific question, not one that is too broad ("Tell me everything you know about. . . ."), or insulting ("Do you know anything about. . . ."), or too naive ("Was the movie I just saw really accurate?").
  • Give the expert plenty of time to answer; don't hope for results by saying something like, "Please answer right away because my paper is due tomorrow morning."

Here's an example of a good e-mail etiquette. It is based on one recently received by one of our major contributors:

"Dear Prof. Jones,
I am a senior at Sunnydale High School and will be writing a paper on Domesday Book for my English History and Literature class at the end of this semester. I have read the standard biography of William the Conqueror by David Douglas and have consulted several books on the Domesday survey, including The Making of Domesday, by V. H. Galbraith, and The Domesday Book, by Thomas Hinde. While I have a pretty clear understanding of William's purpose in commissioning the Domesday survey, I have been unable to determine whether he ever actually used the information or whether he died before the survey was complete. Can you suggest places I can look? Thank you for your time.
Mary Smith

" Good luck with your research.

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The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.