16+ Free Online Resources for Doing Research for your Novel

doberman doing research on a laptopSo, your work in progress takes place in the 1800s … or maybe it’s a contemporary story, but one that is set in a region of the country you’re unfamiliar with. You know you’ve got a lot of research to do to make your story accurate and credible, but where do you begin?

For historical fiction, primary source documents—actual letters, diaries/journals, speeches, photographs—are the best sources for your research. After that come secondary and tertiary sources. Read here for more detail on what each is: https://library.ithaca.edu/sp/subjects/primary

Princeton University has excellent research resources: https://library.princeton.edu/research

Here’s a helpful blog post “6 Free Online Resources for Primary Source Documents,” that provides additional sites for primary source documents.

Maybe your WIP is contemporary. You still may find yourself looking for facts.

There’s no denying that Google has captured the search engine market. It’s #1, but there are sites beyond Google that offer a more finely tuned search.

Search engines

Here are some other search engines you’ll want to try (you may never go back to Google):

Meta-search engines:

Using the right keywords to input into your search makes all the difference in the results you get. Sometimes it’s a matter of brainstorming the possibilities and trying them out to see what you get. Like everything we do, the more we do it, the better we get at doing it. If the search engine you’re using has an “Advanced Search” option, give it a try.

Other helpful starting points for your research:

Many sites exist that are topic specific.

Does one of your characters have a specific illness or physical condition? Try WebMD.com or MayoClinic.org.

There are also a number of government topical websites that are helpful. I recently recommended the VA.gov site to an author because one of her characters is a veteran suffering from PTSD.

If you write, or want to write, thrillers, this site might be useful:

CIA World Factbook, (but the cynic in me questions anything coming from the CIA).

Don’t forget about your local library. Get to know the clerk in the reference department; he/she can be an asset in your search.

Many thanks to Maura D. Shaw for her book Mastering Online Research. I learned about many of these sites from her book, but she also taught me so much more about in depth research. I highly recommend Ms.Shaw’s book.

I have really only scratched the surface here. There is so much out there.

What sites/sources have you found particularly helpful? Will you share them here so our readers can glean from your knowledge? Thank you.

Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.

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