Try These Free Online Research Tools

Category: Search-Engines

The World Wide Web is at once a gold mine and a cesspool, so how can you find answers to your questions, and the helpful, authoritative information you need? Check out my list of the best free online reference and research tools...

Desperately Seeking Something?

There are plenty of websites with dubious experts, opinionated blowhards, and others who would lead you in a particular direction that benefits them more than you. So where do you turn when you have a problem and you need to find reliable answers from true experts, researchers, and the recognized leaders in a particular area?

I've got a list of websites that I have personally found to meet those criteria. Most of them have been around for over a decade (or two), proving their worth by their longevity. Check out my long list of FREE online reference tools, covering more than a dozen areas of expertise.

General Reference Tools

In a library, if you don't know where to look for a reference book, you go to the Reference Librarian. On the Internet, if you don't know where to look for answers, you go to At first glance, the sheer amount of useful links on the Refdesk home page can be overwhelming. But it's really quite well organized and useful.
reference books gives you credible answers from published reference works. Enter you search words and it will search 40+ encyclopedias, as well as 70+ dictionaries and thesauruses.

The Britannica Online Encyclopedia is another very credible source.

At, you can look up a word in either a dictionary or Roget's Thesaurus (to find synonyms and antonyms). The site also offers Ask Doctor Dictionary (for questions about words or grammar), the Word of the Day, daily crosswords & word search puzzles, and a huge list of links to other online dictionaries, including hundreds of non-English ones.

At the Infoplease Homework Center, students will find useful information by subject area, develop better writing, note-taking and study skills, and search through previous questions and answers from other students.

WordReference offers free online translation dictionaries. Enter a word and it will first translate it into
Spanish, French, Italian, German or Russian, then it will display the dictionary definition for that word in the chosen language.

Need a synonym, antonym, or related word? Try this RhymeZone.

The Farmers' Almanac is filled with entertaining short stories, good cooking, fun, facts, forecasts, timely household tips, calendars for fishing and of course gardening.

The CIA World Factbook, published by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, has data on every country in the world, including maps, background, geography, people, government, economy, and military.

Medical Questions

medical advice WebMD is one of the leading medical reference websites. This authoritative website contains thousands of articles on medical conditions, diseases and how to stay healthy.

The Mayo Clinic's Symptom Checker prompts you to choose a symptom, enter related factors, and view possible causes. MedlinePlus is a service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world's largest medical library. You'll find information on health, wellness, disorders, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and articles about diseases, symptoms, tests, and treatments.

Business and Financial Research

business and finance Hoover's Online provides company capsules and profiles that give comprehensive company, industry, and market intelligence to investors and business professionals. (Insert vacuum cleaner joke here.)

EDGAR - The SEC requires public companies to file registration statements, periodic reports, and other forms electronically through EDGAR. Now you can access and download this information for free.

Zack's Investment Research has tools that enable individuals to research, select and track their investments more effectively. Company news, profiles, stock prices and more.


weather information In addition to local weather maps and forecasts for thousands of cities around the world, The Weather Channel website offers many other useful features such as the free Desktop Weather software for Windows, Inbox Weather (e-mails you the forecast daily) Pollen Reports, Air Quality Forecast, and the Interstate Forecast planner.

For the weather junkies, Weather Underground has everything you'd expect from a weather site, including yesterday's forecast.

Check the BBC Weather Centre for weather forecasts for the UK and cities around the world.


Movies The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lets you search for a movie or video by its title, and tells you everything you could ever want to know about that movie and its actors.

Ever wonder if a movie is appropriate for your family? ScreenIt has detailed reviews for movies and videos. You'll know just how much language, violence, sex, and other potentially offensive material you'll be exposed to.

Rotten Tomatoes is a site for both casual movie-goers and film buffs alike. Millions each month use Rotten Tomatoes as a dependable resource and objective coverage of movies and videos. With more than 100,000 titles and 360,000 review links in its ever-gro wing database, Rotten Tomatoes offers a fun and informative way to discover the critical reaction on movies from the nation's top print and online film critics, neatly summarized via the TomatoMeter.

Music and Lyrics Research

music and lyrics Try if you want a searchable database of song lyrics covering many different genres.

Kiss This Guy is a website devoted to misheard or misunderstood lyrics. Finally, you can find out why Manfred Mann had a boulder on his shoulder in the song "Blinded by the Light."

US Government

government research tools Visit and find up-to-date information on who's really saying what on Capitol Hill. This site, formerly known as THOMAS, is a service of the U.S. Congress to make legislative information publicly available. It contains full text of legislation (both House and Senate bills searchable by keyword or by bill number) and full text of the Congressional Record. No spin, bias, or sound bytes here... Just the raw data from which you can draw your own conclusions. is the U.S. government's official web portal, a guide to finding government info and websites on a wide variety of topics, including Benefits and Grants, Consumer Guides, Environment, Energy, and Agriculture, Health and Nutrition, Money and Taxes, Public Safety and Law, Science and Technology, and Voting and Elections.

Language Translation

translation tools Google Translate does computer-assisted translations from English to Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian -- and back again, sort of. In addition to entering or pasting your own text, you can select a document to transalte. Supported formats include txt, rtf, doc, pdf, ppt, and xls. Over 100 languages are supported, and it does a pretty good job of figuring out what the input language is, when you're not sure of the starting point. You can click an icon to hear the phrase spoken in the target language,

Microsoft's Bing Translator is a similar service, covering about 60 languages.

Maps, Topography and Astronomy

Maps and directions Google Maps will help you find your way from point A to point B, providing detailed turn-by-turn directions. Google Earth lets you virtually fly to any point on Earth and view streets, houses, buildings, and terrain, from satellite imagery. The built-in Google Sky component lets you zoom out into outer space to view planets, stars, constellations and galaxies.

Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope turns your computer into a telescope. This jaw-droppingly cool tool blends images and data from ground and space-based telescopes to allow for seamless panning and zooming across the night sky. You can also take guided tours, narrated by astronomers, featuring interesting places in the sky.

CitySearch helps you explore city life, from Las Vegas hotels to New York restaurants, Chicago events to Seattle coffee houses. Find recommendations, ratings, reviews, tips and more.


genealogy research Cyndi's List is a comprehensive index to over 100,000 genealogical resources on the Internet. You'll find a list of links that point you to genealogical research resources in many different countries, all categorized & cross-referenced. It's like a "card catalog" to the genealogical collection in the immense library that is the Internet. Over 1000 new links are added each month!

Find more genealogy resources in my article Genealogy Research Online.

Fake News and Urban Legend Research

urban legend research Snopes - Snopes is one of the best urban legend debunking sites on the Net. Before you forward that crazy story to all your friends, check it out on Snopes.

The Truth or Fiction site also has a wealth of well-researched and common sense information on urban legends.

Air Travel

air travel information Are you meeting a friend at the airport? Track a flight, with this graphical real-time monitor that shows the flight path on a map, along with the aircraft's altitude, speed and estimated arrival time. Try the FlightAware Flight Tracker.

My article Here's How to Get The Lowest Airfares Online will point you to some specialized online search tools, and more tips and tools for flyers. Read on...

Miscellaneous Research Tools

research tools BIBLE SEARCH - Bible Gateway is a tool for reading and searching the Bible online, covering over 100 languages and translations. It provides advanced searching capabilities, which allow readers to find and compare passages based on keywords, phrases, or scripture reference.

FINANCIAL AID - FinAid is the most comprehensive collection of information about student financial aid on the web. FinAid is free and has a stellar reputation in the educational community as the best Web site of its kind. Make it your first stop on the Web when looking for ways to finance an education.

HOUSE VALUES - offers free automated house valuations on more than 80 million homes across the United States. You can see the estimated value of your house, your neighbor's house, or just about any other home in the country -- whether it's for sale or not. Zillow pulls information from public real estate records, tax rolls and other sources to compute a house value. Zillow also offers a forum where you can chat with pros, as well as other home buyers and sellers.

PEOPLE FINDERS - Need to find someone's phone number, address, or other personal info? Check out FastPeopleSearch and search my name, phone number, or address. In the past I've recommended, but I've found this site offers more information, fewer ads, and doesn't constantly try to sell "premium" services.

SPECIALIZED GOOGLE SEARCHES - Just visit Google and type in a phone number, stock symbol, or Fedex tracking number, and see what happens. Learn more about Google's secret search tools in my artcile Here's How to Strengthen Your Google Fu.

Got a favorite online reference, research or search tool? Post a comment below and tell us about it...

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This article was posted by on 10 Jan 2020

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Most recent comments on "Try These Free Online Research Tools"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Bernie Amler
10 Jan 2020

What about Wolfram Alpha?

Posted by:

10 Jan 2020

Thank you for this great compilation, BobRankin.
I was surprised that you did not include one of (both of) 'our' favorite sites >> Wolfram|Alpha
Since most of your followers appear to be Windows users, should get an honorable mention here, as this site was created based on a conversation Steve Ballmer had with his wife Connie?
@BillC >> I must not have gotten that memo about Wikipedia being "Not a credible source".

Posted by:

10 Jan 2020

Thank you for pulling these all together. It will be handy for my students as they learn to do research.

Posted by:

top squirrel
10 Jan 2020

Anytime you use Google that fact gets added to your google account. If you don't have one you are pressured into getting one. You can always delete all the info in your account (or so they say) but it is not easy actually to do. And the most you can get is to "pause," not delete.
YouTube is a great resource, but it is owned by Google. You can delete previous searches, but it's no picnic. I found notations of pieces of music I searched for 10+ years ago.
Google sells your info.
WebMD sells your searches. They have your email but if you register for an account they have your name and the rest of it. It's spam city. Vendors try to reconstruct your health status by your medical searches and send you ads that reflect that. Like targeted ads? I'd rather have irrelevant ads than ones that prove someone's been breathing down my neck.
Bob neglected to mention DuckDuckGo, a search engine just as good as Google but which does not track or keep records of your searches. I stopped using Google years ago, and guess what, I stopped getting spam from unexpected sources.
Google is OK if you don't mind being passed around behind your back. And get spam from sources who seem to know a lot about you.
Accuweather was not mentioned. It deserves a look.

Posted by:

Paula D
10 Jan 2020

Wonderful list and many I have used with students as a school librarian. But, depending on where you live, your public library probably has a sizable collection of paid reference sources that can be accessed for free either remotely o in the library only using your library card number. These services would cost individuals many hundreds of dollars to subscribe. I know Bob has shared with us the free audio and video streaming services provided by libraries. But don't forget the online print collections. AND don't forget that real-life search engines, your local librarians, are there to help you find answers, too.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2020

Also don't forget the Urban Dictionary for deciphering the casual talk of the younger ones around you.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2020

P.S. I am older than a Boomer. So I need to use the Urban Dictionary frequently.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2020

I tried getting google earth and maps but could not get an account set up because I do not have a cell phone to get their texted code to complete the process. Oh well, I can still use other maps. I get a lot of good sources from your site Bob, thanks.

Posted by:

Lon Johnson
10 Jan 2020

>> Hoover's Online provides company capsules and profiles that give comprehensive company, industry, and market intelligence to investors and business professionals. (Insert vacuum cleaner joke here.)

>> Finally, you can find out why Manfred Mann had a boulder on his shoulder in the song "Blinded by the Light."

Bob, I swear you are the funniest (maybe the only funny) guy on the internet!!! Your turns of phrase like these above certainly tickle my funny bone; I almost look forward to them more in your 'contributions (here) to the sum total of human knowledge' more than I do the excellent information you impart. THANKS SO MUCH!!!!

Posted by:

Lon Johnson
10 Jan 2020

Hey Bob, what happened to my quotes from your newsletter here I wanted to hilight for your fans like me? My praise showed up, but not the quotes I included. Nuts!!!

Posted by:

Christopher Booth
10 Jan 2020

Clicking on your link to fastpeoplesearch brings up "ERROR 1020 Access denied
What happened?

This website is using a security service to protect itself from online attacks."

Is therre a solution?

Posted by:

10 Jan 2020

Bob, Thanks so much for all those links. I didn't know that some of them existed.

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
10 Jan 2020

Holy cow, what a treasure trove, Bob. THANK YOU!!

Posted by:

Walter Crawford
11 Jan 2020

Great site Bob - very informative. I should like to mention an other seardh engine: "" When I was told about it 4 or 5 years ago I thought it was a joke site, but far from it, really fantastic and extremely fast.

Posted by:

12 Jan 2020

Top Squirrel is right - avoid Google and all its works if you don't want to be spammed. Duckduckgo doesn't track you, and is better than Google translate without the tracking that follows everything Google.

Posted by:

The Baroness In Oregon
13 Jan 2020

Bob, THANK YOU for NOT including Wikipedia! Any online "authority" that permits anyone who wants to add to, subtract from, not print verified information, and edit at will is NOT a reliable source of information. I've trusted you for years and never hesitate to follow your advice. BTW, your recommendation of using DuckDuckGo as a search engine is for those of us who do not want every search to be monitored by Google/Yahoo/whomever and really cuts down on ads appearing on my screen based upon what's been searched! Thank you!

Posted by:

14 Jan 2020

Snopes does not debunk anything. Snopes is a left wing fake verification site.

Posted by:

Gloria Huffman
24 Jan 2020

While I prefer the format of, being able to get *yesterday's weather* made me add the link for to my daily short list.

Posted by:

Aapka Dictionary
16 Aug 2020

Hi Friends

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Posted by:

al young
12 Jul 2021

Thank ya Bob I just came across this website about reference and i had it stored under my favorites and forgot about it never used it I Really appreciate this info it will be so useful to me in my family search i started in pandemic never finished anyway great site
thank eee so much ur the best
alyoung jr

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