Unconventional Research Sites for Writers

writer researchI read recently that 70% of millennials get their news from Facebook. Really? Isn’t Facebook a place to share personal information, stay in touch with friends and families, post pictures of weddings and birthdays? So why do students turn to it for news? And then, not two days later, I heard Twitter has reclassified their app as a news purveyor rather than a social media device. Once again: Who gets news from Twitter? Apparently a lot of adults. No surprise news shows are littered with references to listener’s tweets and the President breaks stories via his Twitter stream.

One more stat — which may explain the whole social-media-as-news-trend — and then I’ll connect these dots: Only 6% of people trust the press. I guess that’s why they prefer blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

Research is a similar change. Your grandmother relied on encyclopedias, reference books, and museums. Your mother probably looked to Google. But, if you aren’t motivated by Google’s snazzy list of hits you have to slog through, you won’t get a lot out of it. I have a list of eight research sites that walk the line between stodgy (textbooks) and out-there (Twitter and Facebook), designed by their developers with an eye toward enticing you in and then keeping your interest. Some may be more suited to your children than adults — you decide.

It’s notable that most are free, but include advertising:

History Channel Great Speeches


The History Channel includes a large collection of the most famous historic speeches in video and audio, including dropping the atomic bomb, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Jackie Robinson on racial taunts, and the 9/11 attacks.

This is a great primary source when researching almost any topic, but especially history.  You hear original phrasing, emphasis, and often reactions to dramatic events that — without recordings — would be simply words on paper to most of them, devoid of passion, emotion, and motivation.

25308581 concept illustrating evolution from books to computersHow Stuff Works


How Stuff Works, available on the web, iPads, and Android, is an award-winning source of unbiased, reliable, easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works. This includes topics such as animals, culture, automobiles, politics, money, science, and entertainment. It uses a wide variety of media (photos, diagrams, videos, animations, articles, and podcasts) to explain traditionally-complex concepts such as magnetism, genes, and thermal imaging. It also includes Top Ten lists that address pretty much any topic, such as ten historic words that don’t mean what you’d think and ten things made from recycled wood.

You’ll find thorough discussions on topics you’re researching written in an easy-to-understand manner (that was great when I had to research the magnetosphere for my recent novel). There are also add-on articles that enable you to dig deeper. For those looking for more rigor, there are quizzes that evaluate knowledge and challenge learning (such as the hardest words to spell and Who Said That).

Info Please


Info Please provides authoritative answers to questions using statistics, facts, and historical records culled from a broad overview of research materials including atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, thesauri, a calculator, the periodic table, a conversion tool, the popular Year-by-Year tracking what happened when, and the oft-quoted This Day in History.

Students 9-13 may prefer the younger-oriented Fact Monster.

NOVA Videos 


NOVA Videos (part of PBS) offer high-quality, well-researched and professionally-presented videos on a wide variety of topics such as ancient civilizations, body and brain, evolution, physics, math, planet earth, space, tech and engineering, and more. It is not filtered for youngers (though everything is G-rated), rather addresses topics with the intent of explaining them fully. Of great utility is a series of over 400 video shorts (most two-five minutes) on topics such as robots, ancient civilizations, and nature — all searchable by topic and date.

Besides video, topics may include articles, Q&A, slideshows, audio, documentary (or fact-based) TV shows, timelines, quizzes, links to other sites, and DVDs/books available for purchase.

Condom with

Smithsonian Learning Lab


The Smithsonian Learning Lab curates the more than one million digital images, recordings, and text available from the Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, nine major research centers, the National Zoo, and more. The goal is to inspire the discovery and creative use of knowledge.

During searches, you can easily tag and annotate discoveries, save them into your account profile, and then share with others.



Zanran searches not only text (as is done by traditional browsers), but numerical data presented in graphs, tables, and charts and posted as an image. This huge amount of information can be difficult to find using conventional search engines, but not for Zanran (in beta).

If you’re looking for statistics or raw data on a subject, this is an excellent additional site to include in research.

–republished from Today’s Author

More on research:

My Research at the Library of Congress 

5 Reasons I love Research

Writer’s Tip #26: Be Accurate

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

85 thoughts on “Unconventional Research Sites for Writers

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  5. I certainly don’t use FB or Twitter for news updates. I’ll stick with our national news. I do use a combination of books and internet for my research, and stick with authoritative sites.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the resources. We do not have cable TV! (Gasp!) I do have my handy dandy iPhone with 24/7 internet connection and full-time updates from Facebook. I am not a millennial but, embarrassingly enough, learn about many current events from the postings of my “friends.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, Jacqui, this is exactly what I need right now. I would never consider Twitter, Facebook, or Google as a source for news, but then we still get and read a daily newspaper as well as a weekly news magazine. What a sad comment about people today. There is information I have a hard time researching, and you may have just given me valuable sources. Saving this!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’ve now added at least another 4 hours/day to my “googling”. I LOVE the internet – probably because I used to read the encyclopedia and the dictionary when I was a kid.

    I didn’t know about some of the sources you mentioned – THANKS Jacqui, I’ll check them out. (I LOVE NOVA)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. WOW!! Jacqui, I had no idea of any of these sites and what a pedigree…I just have to look at some of these and no. 1 will be the Smithsonian! Thank you so much for sharing – a wonderful collection of research sites. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. WOW, thanks so much for sharing this list.
    Personally, I’d never do a research just on the internet. I did that when I first started researching the 1920s for my stories, but slowing I realised the internet, even if it is a wide net and you can truly find anything on it, often turns out to be too narrow. Sources on the internet do answer you questions, but even authorative sources just do that: they answer your specific question and that’s it.

    Books give you a wider view, and so a wider knowledge of the subject. Because they are comprised of many chapters, they tend to cover a subject in a more in-deapth way and, above all, they expand on the subject, so that you end up learning things you’d never look up on the net, because you didn’t even know they existed or were relevant to your research. It’s a more organic way of learning, in my opinion.

    My research normally combine the internet and books. Books give me a wide impression of the subject I’m researching, the net gives me the opportunity to search for very specific topic that would be hard to research in books (because they might be mentioned in the book index, so you’d never know you need that particular book).
    I think we are very lucky to have both 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right about the breadth available on the internet. I’m like you: I go to the library, get a broad view by reading everything I can find, and then the internet is valuable. I’m glad you point this out, Sarah.


  11. I am expressing an interest in the pieces that are printed on this webpage and also the work that you mentioned that you do as part of other sources. I would be interested in following some of your contributions and reading the great things you do when you write articles like those. I didn’t know before that the different websites you can use to get information to read from that you can use as a guide to help you with preparing writing practise were free for the use of them. I am really thankful that I have found somewhere that there is some evidence about something such as that and I don’t have to pay for any of it apart from the ones that have things available for purchase. Often I find something along those lines and I have read that it is free but when I actually go onto it to read the content I find that it isn’t what I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nice article! I don’t trust most things that come across my t.v or computer. There is so much gray area now days that it’s just a waste of time to read something as a source of information without researching the facts for myself. Thank you for these free resources. I love the NOVA videos. I tape them every wednesday so I can see them on the big T.V.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am far removed from Milennial (my granddaughter is almost 10) but I get much of my news from Facebook and RT since I’ve known for years, by looking at sources such as BBC, RT, and Al jazeera (when it was actually trying to be unbiased) that the mainstream news isn’t reliable.

    More than one source is needed — triangulating similar information — and even then the information may be wrong if everyone received it from the same source.

    For historical information, there are a lot of sites by avid historians with pictures and explanations. That was helpful when I was trying to find information about transatlantic liners around 1900.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Research is hell, especially if you don’t have access to a University Library. The City of Austin raised the rates for those of us outside the city limits that we couldn’t afford one card, much less two.

    If you’re homebound, you’re stuck with the Internet, which is often less reliable than a Trump Tweet. Jacqui Murray clues us in to some sites to get us started.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I use these a lot, not for current news, but for historical research. Anyone getting current news from social media sites might as well watch Fox News. Mainstream media is weak and not fulfilling its mandate, but it’s far more accurate than the postings on social media sites, even so-called professional sites like LinkedIn.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi Jacqui – I won’t go into the aspect of getting news off chat sights – seems to be ephemeral, probably not accurate, and how important is it … seems to be celebrity oriented … ‘teaching us not to think’ .. how can we believe/ learn in sound bites.

    Could you add TED: Ideas Worth Spreading to your list above – thanks …
    Wikipedia too …
    There are other blog-articles I use …

    But good to have that list – thanks … Hilary

    Liked by 3 people

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