Is there any way to research and identify questions?

We have 2303 unanswered ID questions and while I wouldn't mind putting in the research effort, I have no idea where to start short of reading every single short-story anthology ever published. So, does anybody have any ideas on a research methodology that they can share with the rest of us?

I'm sure I'm not the only one that would like to cut down the number of unanswered questions we have on the site.


4 Answers 4


I don't use any particular method. Story ID questions are basically an exercise in unconscious pattern matching and getting the question in front of enough eyeballs that someone recognizes the story. If online searches alone could find the story, the person would probably have already found their answer, so I don't try to do their Googling for them. If I can't identify the story within one minute of racking my brain, I'm never going to identify it.


A number of methods:

  • Google Books- you can specify genre, tag-words.

  • Google operands.

      +wantthisterm -donotwantthis
      +"this wording with spaces"
      site:lookhere.com -site:dontlookhere.com

    There are a tonne, do some research.

  • key-terms- 'episode-list', 'anthology'

  • Don't just accept what's asked- use the comment-system to get more details.

  • Don't assume language or country of origin.

Ultimately, short-stories from anthologies are hard to dig-out unless the asker knows very, very specific details. There's no comprehensive (free) search-tool for this.

  • 1
    Another handy google operator: AROUND().
    – sjl
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 7:25

It's difficult. Unless you happen to recall the same details about the story, most identification questions require a lot of experience.

First, you can try googling. Do a web search, or (for written works) a search on rec.arts.sf.written (if you know of a good search engine for that, tell me — Google Groups search has been painfully unhelpful for several years). Sometimes the asker didn't google enough. Not all askers have searched as much as they should have. Also, knowing to weed other candidates can help. Even remembering some other story can help!

If the author remembers at least part of the name, search on ISFDB.

The type of plot or some other characteristic might remind you of a particular author even if you haven't read that particular story. It's a lot easier to search or research an identification question if you know the author. Even a wrong guess can help the search if someone else has made that wrong guess before.

If you can't solve it yourself, advertise. Ask your friends. Retweet it. Ask on rasfw.


In addition to what's been said above, lead by example. If you find something by searching the internet, please include the successful query, as well as a quick commentary if the thought process behind it isn't obvious to grasp.

This serves two purposes:

  • first, and speaking of experience, it may greatly help people wanting to hone their skills in story-id searching, by providing instances of what works and how one can think of better synonyms/wildcard use/learn about dedicated sites, etc;
  • second, if the winning word set worked for you, it might also help future people Googling a similar set in their search, as these very words will be included in your answer and therefore indexed by search engines.

I think it's best to include them in the answer and not in the comments, both because answers are searchable with SE search, while comments aren't; and comments might be buried below other comments.

Nothing too fancy, one to three lines will do:

  • I found it by Googling book clan animals wolf, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness was the second result

  • book blind girl glasses internet mind -doerr did the trick, I used -doerr to exclude All the light we cannot see, which came up often but isn't sci-fi

  • or you found a story-id thread on another site (link to it!) and it was in the suggestions, etc, etc.

  • See also this question and its answers on the benefits of listing your search terms.
    – Jenayah
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 17:43

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