Yesterday’s writers had to have many books on hand, some of them called tomes because they were so large. Today, much information we need is available with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks on-line. Here are some great tools with their perks. But as always, be careful out there. With more good information, there comes more bad information, and even information overload. I believe in the old (not so sure it’s used very much anymore) journalism rule about having three reliable sources before publishing. Research is needed more than ever for fiction writers because many readers do reviews and will downgrade us if we get our facts wrong, especially about weapons and police procedure, I’ve noticed. I saw where one writer got the year a song came out long ago wrong and was called on it. Check those little facts, and the big ones. Our memories for such details are often a bit off. 

Here’s a list of sources I’ve found useful, mostly on-line.


Roget’s Thesaurus

Or buy the book. Handy, but many of today’s dictionaries also include synonyms and are easier to use, such as:

WordWeb Dictionary

Highlight a word anywhere on your screen, click on WordWeb in your task bar, and the highlighted word usually will enter the dictionary automatically, giving you the definition plus other information, such as synonyms. I only found this little trick by accident. Now you know about it, too. And of course, you can simply type a word into the search line, and if it’s not spelled correctly, a list of words that are close pops up. There’s a free home version and a paid pro version. Your pick. Highly recommended for ease of use.


Chicago Manual of Style

If writing fiction

$35/year subscription. You can of course, also buy the book ($65 on their site, but I’m sure you can find it used for much less). Actually, I like having a hardcopy for browsing—I bought one a few years ago. But the on-line version lets you make notes and style sheets. Having both would be heaven.

Strunk and White

Now a bit controversial. No official on-line site, but if you search for it on-line, you will find many sites that discuss it. I like to use it as a fallback guide. At least you can always quote it if someone questions you. And it’s short, very short.

AP Guide for Journalism

$29.95 for the print edition, but there are also on-line subscriptions for $26. Check the site for details. Some styles are different, though, for journalists and writers of fiction. Beware, double check with Chicago Manual of Style before doing what the AP Guide says to do if you’re writing fiction.



Free. This one is also tricky. Be sure to double/triple check references and to find other reputable sites that agree with Wikipedia. Beware of entries that Wikipedia itself says need work and references. I find it’s a good starting-off place and use it all the time for casual stuff, but I double check if I’m writing something for publication. Be aware that it’s not all written by experts or people who do good research. Look for citations there. Those could lead to very good sources. Remember the old adage: Consider the source.


19 cents a day, so a 365-day year costs $69.35/year after a 7-day free trail. Great reputation, but I’ve never used it.


Limited to what the Smithsonian exhibits, as far as I could tell. Free, which is nice. I’d certainly trust it.

World Book

Many choices–on-line, print, books for children here.


Medline Plus

Free. Has a good reputation, but it’s always wise to get another two sources for back-up.

Gray’s Anatomy

No, not the TV show, although if you search Google, that’s all that shows up on the first page. But I’ll leave you to search out what you’d need. There’s an on-line edition for over $200, books at Amazon and other on-line bookstores, and your local bookstore might even have what you need.


Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz. A great reference without the legalese. Available in both print and for Kindle. Leslie also has a blog on-line to answer legal questions.


I like What’s What – A Visual Glossary of the Physical World by David Fisher and Reginald Bragonier, Jr. 1990 edition, $8 for the print book, plus shipping, at:

And some final advice: Learn to use Advanced Google Search. Start here:

Do you have research links you visit often? Print books you refer to often? Please share them in the comments. Thanks!


  1. Thanks, Gail. I am thrilled you will put it on “your” Patch. I wish there was one here in Corpus Christi–I checked after reading about how well you’re doing with the one in your area. I’ll keep checking here. I’ll check out refdesk–sounds good!
    Cheers back atcha!

  2. Jan,


    This is such a helpful list of research tools for writers!
    Very thoughtful of you to put it together. I’m one of those writers who used to have a huge collection of reference sources in her home. But times change. When we downsized from a large house to an apartment, my husband insisted that the books had to go. He said I could get the same info on the internet. Not exactly. But there are a huge number of resources available now that weren’t when I first started writing.

    • Thanks for coming by, Jacqueline. I still have several shelves with writing advice books, but I did thin out the references last time we moved. I still like the print for the visual thesaurus–I love to look through it. And I’ll never give up my tiny Strunk and White. LOL

  3. Good list, Jan. I use From Aaron to Zoe: 15,00 Great Baby Names, by Daniel Avram Richman. This 278 page book, with worksheets at the end, includes a listing of names by ethnicity and by gender. The compiler includes a brief bibliography at the end. Each names is listed with ethnicity, linguistic origins, meaning, and anything else distinctive about it. Sometimes I just enjoy browsing through it.

  4. Anita, I just realized I left off grammar sites! Yikes! Obviously, I’m going to have to do a re-do of this post. I’ll wait a few weeks to be sure I get everyone’s suggestions included, and search out a few more, especially for grammar, myself. Thanks!

  5. Hi, Susan. Thanks for your input. I’ll check our your recommendation. I’m afraid I’m a bit lazy about picking names. To tell you all the reasons for that, I’d need to write another blog post. Maybe I will!

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