I’ve done freelance and in-house copywriting, content marketing, and general journalism for about a decade, penning everything from broadcast news to newspaper articles and promotional blog posts. I would hardly have managed to complete a third of them if not for the free online research resources and tools I’ve gathered over the years—first in J-school and professionally in full-time editor/content director roles and in side jobs as a freelance writer and content strategy consultant.
In that time, I’ve had to write about a lot about things with which I’m generally unfamiliar: hunting, hydraulic fracturing, cloud storage, bikeshare programs, enterprise software, video editing, graphic design, medical equipment… you name it, odds are I’ve written an article or blog post about it, if not edited an entire magazine about it.
So how do I authoritatively write and edit materials about these topics with which I have little to no experience? I do my research, of course. One of the greatest things about our lives to day is the accessibility of information. Unfortunately, with the absolute deluge of available information out there, not everyone knows where to look. So I’ve decided to share some of my go-to, reliable, totally free online research resources that I use when I need context, data or information for an article or blog post.
If you’re well-versed in nonfiction and article writing, you’re probably well aware of most of these resources, but if you’re crafting a piece or supplementing a book with research outside of your field, this list can provide you with the hard data and preexisting research you need to go interview experts and conduct additional research. With categories for nonfiction writers specializing in self-help, fitness, motivation, business, science, parenting and more, start here to access the wealth of archives and data available on the web.
Whether you’re authoring your own book, penning an article, or ghostwriting on behalf of someone else, it’s vital to back your work with strong, credible and verifiable research, and these free online research resources can help you do just that.
Free Online Research Resources for Writers
- The U.S. Census Bureau
- The U.S. Library of Congress
- The Internet Archive
- Pew Research Center
- Project Gutenberg
- Integrated Public Use Microdata Series
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) | NHTSA
- CIA World Factbook
- Google Scholar
- Journalist’s Toolbox
Health & Fitness:
- The World Health Organization
- The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
- Statistics in Sports
- Human Mortality Database
Business & Finance:
Motivation & Psychology:
- The American Psychological Association
- The General Social Survey
- The Institute for Quantitative Social Science
- Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES)
- Common Core of Data
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN)
- The Association of Religion Data Archives
- Hartford Institute for Religion Research
- Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB)
Bonus: My last online resource that I use for practically everything is Reddit. I know, I know, it’s a psychotic minefield populated by literal millions of web users of all kinds who post things you love to look at right alongside things you wish you had never seen. BUT if you look in the right places, you can find all sorts of truly reliable and interesting free information—and you can request it yourself from experts. In particular, check out /r/AskHistorians and /r/AskScience, which are populated by actual vetted and credentialed scientists and historians and require citations in the answers.