Underestimating Complete Idiots

Now, from the title of this post, you might infer that I’m going to complain about a bunch of morons.  🙂 I’m not.  Quite the opposite.  I’m going to talk about an often-ridiculed and even more often overlooked reference tool – The Complete Idiot’s Guide (or the Dummies books… though I prefer the former for its thumbability – is that a word? *laughs*)

I’ve heard plenty of people, over the years since The Complete Idiot’s Guide books started being published, make fun of or joke about the books.  I admit that some of the subjects seem a little pedestrian to need a beginner’s guide, and that’s probably what spurs the bad jokes.  But I’m equally puzzled as to why these books have obtained such a bad rap.

Admittedly, they’re not scholarly texts and, like most books, they’re prone to the normal amount of errors.  However, unlike most non-fiction tomes on particular subjects, the CIGs don’t drone on about the subject like a university professor who’s taught the same quantum mechanics for four hundred years.  They present the information in an entertaining and informative way, and include lots of little quick facts that are equally interesting to read.  They provide an excellent bibliography of books on the subject, and sometimes (depending on the subject) even provide contact information for agencies or organizations that deal in whatever the subject matter is.  For a writer, this is like striking gold not once, but three times.

First, they provide basic information on a subject which, if you’re doing research for a book and need to find that information, it can be easily assumed that you’re not an expert on it.  There’re often interesting little factoids in these books that prompt me to research in a direction I might never have even thought of, without them.  Do I think these books should be used as the end-all of research?  Well, of course not!  That was never the intention of the people writing them, and if you’re an author, you should already know that you can’t glean all you need on a subject from one source! That’s English 101.

Second, the fact that these books provide an extensive bibliography is kind of like having a library directory right at your fingertips.  Now, even if you’re pretty well-versed in your subject, and don’t need most of the information in the book, this section is still going to come in handy.  You’re likely to find more indepth research material listed here – maybe even books you’ve never heard of, which might provide interesting research on the subject.

Third, the list of contact information.  Now, I don’t know about you, but my biggest problem with research when I’m writing is when I get down to the questions I just can’t answer with a book.  Often, they leave me with an unfinished plot, because I haven’t a clue who to contact, or whose information might be at least largely accurate and trustworthy.  Sometimes, I even need information that trying to find a contact through normal channels makes frustrating (you should have seen me trying to get the information on the NNMC I needed for SHADOW WALKER! lol).  Well, these books provide a list of contact information for people who can provide that information.  As far as I’m concerned, these contact lists are worth the price of the book, all on their own.  I always look to see if there’s a contacts section in the book, when I buy it.

Take it from me, and never underestimate The Complete Idiot’s Guide books.  As a writer, I can personally vouch that they’re a tool you don’t want to overlook. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Underestimating Complete Idiots

  1. I agree. I prefer the Dummies books, though I’ll go back now, and give the Idiots another look.

    Another source of good information can be game related books, specifically the GURPS books produced by Steve Jackson Games. There are tons of them covering a wide variety of time periods and cultures. The info is condensed and usable, they’re well researched and also cite sources.

  2. esthermitchell says:

    Definitely! I find a lot of useful writing information starts from building from an RPG model. But I do like to caution people to figure out what’s actually researched, and what’s copyrighted material of the RPG.

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