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:
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.
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.
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
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.