5 Key Research Sites You May Have Missed (Plus Cool Tricks) - Writer's Digest

5 Key Research Sites You May Have Missed (Plus Cool Tricks)

Publish date:
Image placeholder title

I'm as guilty as the next person: I use Google for everything and don't wander much outside it. (In fact, I use iGoogle as my browser homepage.)

But as any astute researcher knows, Google's search engine can rank poor-quality content very highly just because the site has good SEO (search engine optimization). Recently, Google adjusted their search algorithm to help control for this, but the problem's still there.

So I wanted to share a few resources to increase your awareness that stuff besides Google exists. However, you should also be aware of Google's specialized search & data services, so those are also included.

1. Blekko is a specialized search engine that filters out a lot of the crap sites that have low-quality content but high search ranking. When you're looking for quality content and want to avoid the content mills, try Blekko.

Image placeholder title

2. Wolfram Alphahas a scientific slant: It's called a "computational knowledge engine." There are a lot of things it can do, which are hard to describe and summarize here, so the best advice is to give it a whirl. For instance, here's what Wolfram reveals if I type in my hometown of Oakland City, Ind.

Image placeholder title

3. The Wayback Machine shows you what any site looked like in the past. It's a fun diversion, but of course a valuable research tool as well.

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

4. Snopes keeps track of Internet scams, hoaxes, urban legends, and misinformation. If you receive an e-mail, visit a site, or see a Facebook status that seems fishy, try searching for it here.

Image placeholder title

5. Quora is becoming a surprising resource for me on a variety of topics. It's a Q&A site that many well-known experts participate in, and it's easy to search. If your question isn't already answered by someone on the site, you can easily add it. What really sells me on Quora (as opposed to some other Q&A sites) is the clean and easy navigation plus excellent credentials of those engaging with it.

A Few Google Tools
If you don't know already about these specialized Google search tools, check them out:

Also, if you're not already aware, here are a few simple ways to improve your basic Google searches:

  • If you want to exclude sites with certain terms, use the minus sign in front of the term (e.g., salsa -dancing)
  • If you want to match the word exactly as you typed it, use the plus sign (e.g., +potatoe)
  • You can use the wild card (*) to stand in for entire words.
  • Use the tilde (~) in front of any terms when you want Google to search for that term, plus anything similar to that term (e.g., ~tutorial)
  • If you want to restrict search results to a specific URL, then add site: in front of the URL. E.g., iraq site:nytimes.com would only turn up articles on Iraq from the New York Times domain.
  • If you find a site and wonder if there are any other similar sites, use related: plus the URL of the site (e.g., related:writersdigest.com).
  • To turn up results that are files only, use the search term plus filetype: and the type of file you're looking for. For example, if you wanted to find PDFs on the topic of publishing, you'd search for publishing filetype:pdf. You can search for Word docs only (doc), music files only (mp3), etc.

What are your favorite search tricks or online research resources? Leave a comment!

Photo credit: Brain Pop UK


10 Epic Quotes From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Here are 10 epic quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The story of a group of rabbits who escape an impending danger to find a new home, Watership Down is filled with moments of survival, faith, friendship, fear, and hope.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Quintilla Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the quintilla.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.


Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.


The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.

Grinnell_Literary Techniques

Using Literary Techniques in Narrative Journalism

In this article, author Dustin Grinnell examines Jon Franklin’s award-winning article Mrs. Kelly’s Monster to help writers master the use of literary techniques in narrative journalism.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 545

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a cleaning poem.


New Agent Alert: Amy Collins of Talcott Notch Literary Services

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Amy Collins of Talcott Notch Literary Services) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


5 Tips for Writing Scary Stories and Horror Novels

Bestselling and award-winning author Simone St. James shares five tips for writing scary stories and horror novels that readers will love to fear.