10 Research Tools for Nonfiction Authors

Researching your nonfiction book is one of the first steps you’ll take in your author journey. When you require more than just your own expertise and knowledge to complete your book, put your best foot forward by consulting the research tools listed below.

  1. Google Scholar: this tool works just like your normal Google search engine, but only shows results from scholarly literature, such as articles, theses, books, and abstracts and court opinions, as well as results from professional societies, online repositories, and universities. When you use Google Scholar, it’s easier to find unbiased and well-researched information on your topic.

  2. Google Maps and Street View: Google Maps lets you explore the entire world from your phone or computer. You’ll be able to see how far two places are from each other, small roads and big highways, bodies of water, and more. If you’re writing about a place you’ve never been to or are not familiar with, this tool will be especially helpful. Street View goes a step further and allows you to see images of what a place looks like if you were on the ground there. Check out buildings and other environmental factors to get a better feel of a place.

  3. Wikipedia: anyone can contribute writing to Wikipedia, the world’s largest reference website. While you won’t want to pull information directly from these articles and cite them in your book, you can use Wikipedia as a starting point. Each article includes a list of references at the bottom, which can direct you to tons of research and news articles on your topic.

  4. Libraries: besides finding plenty of books at your local library, most offer online resources you can access from anywhere at any time. This may include local and national news archives, genealogical information, historical maps, and various online research tools that the library can give you free access to. An experienced librarian can also point you in the right direction.

  5. People: your research can greatly benefit from interviews with college professors, government officials, and others. If there’s an organization or nonprofit that relates to your topic, that can be another good place to find potential interviewees or general information. Your search for these people can begin locally, but remember that video chat apps like Skype, Zoom, and GoToMeeting can help you connect to anyone around the world. Interviews can be especially helpful when piecing together a biography.

  6. Museums: museums and historical societies can offer a wealth of information if you just take the time to visit one, and there’s even more to discover in the archives. Get in touch with an archivist, conservator, or curator to see if you can get a behind-the-scenes look, or if he or she can point you in the direction of more helpful resources on your topic. Many larger museums offer online collections you can browse through as well.

  7. WorldCat: this is the world’s largest library catalog. You can search the collections of thousands of libraries around the world to find a specific book, CD, or video. You may also find article citations with links to their full text, documents and photos of local or historic significance, and digital versions of rare items that aren't available to the public.

  8. TED Talks: the TED archive includes thousands of videos from experts all around the world. Most videos are 18 minutes or less, and cover a wide range of topics, including technology, history, and science (their topic list goes from A to Z!). TED Talks can be a great source of inspiration and help you discover ideas you may have not thought about before.

  9. On This Day: search notable events in history, entertainment, and sports, as well as birthdays, deaths, and weddings. This can help give context to a certain event you’re recounting in your book.

  10. Census Data: as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy, the Census Bureau can help you find the demographics of an area, results from important surveys, and more.

This is not an exhaustive list – you may be able to find research tools more directly related to your specific topic or area of interest. For example, if you are writing true crime, your research may involve reviewing court documents or visiting the scene of a crime. But, these tools can help get you on the right track and build a solid foundation for your nonfiction book. Soon, you’ll want to begin organizing your research materials and outlining your book. Luckily, there’s plenty of writing software that can streamline the entire process for you. If you need information on how to properly cite your sources of information, read Citation Best Practices for Nonfiction.

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