7 Great Online Research Resources for Writers

By Mark Nichol

Doing research to strengthen a current story or article, or to get ideas for a new one? You can google all you want and hope for a productive return, but to engage in a focused search, try one of these mediated experiences instead:

1. Infoplease
From current events to reference-desk resources to features about history, this site puts a remarkable array of information within reach. Guides to the nations of the world, timelines of political, social, and cultural developments, special quantitative and qualitative features like “The World’s Most Corrupt Nations” and “Color Psychology,” and more cover just about anything you could think of.

2. The Internet Public Library
Unlike the other reference centers on this list, the IPL is a portal to other Web sites, brimming with directories of links in topics like Arts & Humanities. (Dictionary of Symbolism? Check. Ask Philosophers? Right. Legendary Lighthouses? We got your legendary lighthouses right here.) If you need background information on either fiction or nonfiction projects, stop by for a visit — I just dare you to leave without a digressive click or ten.

3. The Library of Congress
The online presence of the official repository of knowledge and lore of the United States is an indispensable resource not only for nonfiction writers seeking background information for topics but also for fiction authors seeking historical context for an existing project or inspiration for a new one.

4. Merriam-Webster Online
The publishing world’s dictionary of record is at your fingertips online as well as in print, with a thesaurus and Spanish-English and medical compendia, to boot. The dictionary also includes refreshing can’t-we-all-just-get-along usage commentary. (That and which, as pronouns that introduce restrictive clauses, are interchangeable.) You’ll also find video tutorials on usage from dictionary staff, a Word of the Day feature, word games, and a variety of language-watch features.

5. Refdesk
Refdesk.com, like Infoplease, is a clearinghouse for online research, with links to headline news and timeless information alike. You can easily get lost in its Daily Diversions directory, which includes links not only to humor, games, and trivia sites but also to more respectable resources like DailyWritingTips.com (whoo!). If you have a question, chances are you can find the answer on this site.

6. Snopes
How do you verify that this self-described “definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation” is what it claims to be? Go to the site and find out. The fine folks at Snopes.com will set you straight about any one of hundreds of posts — each with a prominent judgmental icon, and commentary to back it up — about that one thing you think you remember you heard about that one thing. (For example: Posh comes from an acronym for “port out, starboard home” — the ideal respective locations for accommodations on a luxury liner — right? Cue the buzzer. Bogus.) TruthOrFiction.com is a similar site.

7. Wikipedia
This user-generated online encyclopedia got a lot of flak a few years ago for some inaccurate information posted by someone with a grudge, but that was an isolated incident. Also, many sources warn against using Wikipedia as a primary source for research. That said, don’t hesitate to avail yourself of the wealth of information available on the site — much of which is written by subject-matter experts in the field in question. Then click on one of the online sources linked in the footnotes, or take your search to one of the other sites in this list.

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18 Responses to “7 Great Online Research Resources for Writers”

  • Tilen

    Thanks a lot for the links. Much needed 🙂

  • Rachel

    These links are invaluable resources. Thank you for a fantastic post!

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for the resources. I never heard of some them before and will check them out.

  • Ken Khelah

    Thanks for a great list.

  • Treathyl FOX

    Not “Great”. GGGGUUUURRRRRREEEAATTT!!! Like Tony the Tiger says.

  • Niko

    Thanks for the info!
    Just shared this article. 🙂
    Good luck!

  • Birgit

    You got a typo in the link to No. 6:
    Thanks for a great list!
    Birgit

  • Jorge

    Great list, I’m actually about to start a long research paper and this is great help!

    Found one mistake though, you’re missing the “h” from http in Snopes’s link.

  • Bertie Bott

    Great list! I need to point out that the hyperlink for Snope is missing an ‘H’ for the ‘http://’ part. 😀

  • anonymousor

    the link to Snopes is broken, an “h” was missed. then what kind of reward you’ll praise me for my discovering you typo, lol…

  • Krissy Brady | Sell Crazy Someplace Else

    What a great breakdown of resources–thank you! It can be so hard to find reliable sources of information!

  • Piriczki

    Wikipedia is a work of fiction in itself.

  • Mark Nichol

    Piriczki:

    You are helping perpetuate a myth about Wikipedia. I direct your attention to an article about the reliability of Wikipedia. The article is — don’t laugh — on Wikipedia: it’s very thorough and objective, discussing the online encyclopedia’s weaknesses and its strengths. Wikipedia, in essence, is generally as reliable as any other compendium of information.

  • Find Ferry

    Thanks a million for the info 🙂

  • Gene

    How did you miss the CIA World Factbook?

  • Mark Nichol

    Gene:

    I didn’t miss it; I omitted it. I agree that it’s a great resource, so thanks for mentioning it.

  • mohammed Abbakar

    Hi Mr ali hale

    Itis very nice to keep in touch with you , now i feel every thing is
    going well. These resources are very useful to me especially to conduct a research paper and help me a lot to setup my website
    to start engine optimization and after i start the course in my i will be doing a nice job and writing a good article.

  • TruthTeller

    One of the previous commenter’s mentioned that Wikipedia is not reliable……that person called it fiction. I would agree as a researcher who could write a book about Wikipedia and might.

    On social and political topics, Wikipedia is highly unreliable. Its bias is palpable. Any reader can do their own test by looking up conservative or liberal politicians or public figures or social topics that span the range of liberal to conservative. The over-all narrative you will come away with is one of viewpoints instead of facts. When viewpoints over-ride facts, the resource is not a resource at all.

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