A Research Tip (Or, How to Be a Hog Farmer)

If you read my bio in the About Me section, you’ll know that I’m a dabbler, easily distracted by shiny things. I love to learn. Anything, random shit is my favorite. If there were a degree in Random Shit, I would definitely go back to school.

Today I’m going to share a little research tip I learned from an instructor recently.

Research is important to every writer I know. Even if you’re writing a piece of fiction, you’ll invariably come across something – a location, a piece of equipment, an article of clothing, a food – that you’re not familiar with. So you Google it, right? And get abajillion hits. How can you separate out the credible sources from the not-so-credible?

Suppose I have a character who’s a pig farmer. I want to be able to round out who he is, what he does and how he sounds in some sort of believable way when I’m presenting him in the context of his profession. But I don’t know anything about pig farming*.  If I Google <butcher a pig> I get some interesting hits, but if I want hard facts and information, I type this into the search engine: <butcher a pig filetype:pdf> Here’s what I find:

  • A paper from the State of Oklahoma. It tells me some interesting things like only 57% of a hog will make it into something edible. It shows me the cuts on a hog, as well as describing the process. Pigs feet, for instance, weigh 3 pounds. There’s 23 pounds of back fat on a hog.
  • The second hit brings me to Animal Science at Penn State University
  • The third to a piece on slaughtering, cutting, preserving and cooking on the farm, as presented by the US Department of Agriculture

And so on. All reliable, knowledgeable resources.

To repeat the magic search formula: your search words plus filetype:pdf

*Pig farming. Well, it’s not technically true that I know nothing about it. When I was a kid, we used to butcher our own pigs for consumption. It was nasty. Still, grist for the writer’s mill, right?


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