General Research – Part 1 – Skip Google for Research

Information literacy is a huge topic in high schools and universities, and one of the things teachers and librarians are struggling to help students understand is the fact that their search engine is not free of bias and may prioritize ads (or what it thinks you want to see based on your shopping experience) rather than actual information.  It’s made more difficult by the fact that the technology in use is constantly evolving.

Google’s search algorithm has not merely gotten worse.  It has been redesigned to prioritize advertisers and popular pages, often times excluding pages and content that better matches your search terms. As a writer searching for specific information for my stories, I find this unacceptable.  As a proponent of availability of information so the populace can actually educate itself, this is unforgivable.

I’ve been meaning to share some general research resources for a while, but my energy got eaten by a couple of instances of burnout.

Search Engines

The bulk of the links in this article are databases, not search engines. This first batch are search engines, intended to replace the Google search function. I would recommend Firefox as a browser, as it is a significantly less stalkery option.

Duck Duck Go – This is my first choice search engine these days as it’s claim is that it does not collect or share your personal information. I’ve heard rumors that it skews right, but I have not seen evidence to back that up (and I’ve done identical searches with the other engines in this list), but it’s something to keep in mind.

Ecosia – A search engine out of Berlin Germany that uses ad revenue to plant trees. It supports full financial transparency and the privacy of its users.

Qwant – This search engine is operated from Paris, France with no tracking. It claims that it does not employ user tracking or personalize search results in order to avoid trapping users in a filter bubble. It uses contextual advertising


Academia – platform that shares academic research

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine – BASE is a search engine specifically for academic studies texts, and contains more than 100 million scientific documents, 70% of them are free.

Bioline – This is a library of scientific bioscience journals published in developing countries.

Education Resources Information Center – ERIC is a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable, internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information.

JSTOR – academic digital library providing access to more than 12 million journal articles, books, images and primary sources in 75 disciplines.

PDF Drive – This is the largest website for free download of books in PDF format, claiming over 225 million names.

Research Gate – founded to address the problems in the way science is created and shared. Connects the world of science and makes research open to all.

Research Papers in Economics – Volunteers from 102 countries have collected almost 4 million publications on economics and related science for RePEc.

Sci-Hub – research publication library – technically pirated content, but please note that the researchers do not get paid for publication, and will often send you a PDF of their research for free if you ask, it’s the publications that want to restrict access to paying readers

US Government Science Portal – is an American state search engine on 2200+ scientific sites. More than 200 million articles are indexed.

World Cat – a search for the contents of 20 thousand worldwide libraries. Find out where the rare book you need is.


Boston Library History & Political Science – The Boston Library has a ton of history and poli sci resources. Big libraries often have things available digitally for free, even if you aren’t in the area.

Hathi Trust Digital Library – This library provides free digitized books from all over the world.

Internet Archive – This non-profit library houses millions of free digital books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

Project Gutenberg – This site provides free downloads of digital books, focusing on works with expired US copyright. Note, if you look for out-of-print books on Google, it will try to sell you books that you can actually download free from Gutenberg (I’ve tested this multiple times).

Z Library – This digital library provides ebooks for free.

Worldbuilding Resources

Here are some resources for building your fabulous worlds, both in constructing things like maps and in developing a world that feels rich and real.

Don’t forget that building your world includes both the physical aspects of the world (where it is in its solar system, how much water compared to land, active plate tectonics, etc) as well as the cultures of the people who inhabit the world. Culture doesn’t form in a vacuum; it is influenced by the space, the weather, the circumstances.

Sample of a Fractal World Generator square map output.

Fractal World Generator square map output

Continue reading Worldbuilding Resources

Historical Fiction Research

The following was sent as an ask on my Tumblr blog:
You have one of my favourite blogs on Tumblr! I just wanted to know if you have any tips for researching for historical/fantasy? I just can’t seem to get into it, even though it’s one of my favourite genres. Thank you so much! Again, awesome blog!!

Thank you so much for the super kind compliment, and for the ask!  I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you.  I wanted to check in with my network of writers to see if any of them had recommendations I would have missed.  And they did!

I start out with articles that talk more about the process, and how to go about researching; these sometimes include good resources as well.  Below that I have some resources that can be useful, though this list is not remotely exhaustive. 

Continue reading Historical Fiction Research

Clothing Resources

Updated on April 7, 2022

Many years ago (in 2000) I was writing a story that took place in a magical analog of China.  In an effort to incorporate Chinese culture I did a boatload of research, but you know what I couldn’t find?  Clothing.  Sure, everyone mentioned dragon robes, but that was it.  And I was pretty sure that the common folk weren’t wearing those.  Searching “traditional Chinese women’s clothing” over lunch brought up all sorts of pictures of naked white women.  While I was at work.  Fun times.  I ended up having a university friend borrow a book I couldn’t get access to.  It was fantastic, but this was a really slow process.

The internet has evolved a bit since then, though I’m sure there’s lots I’m missing in historical and world textiles. Most notably, I don’t have a lot of good resources on traditional clothing from the Middle-East or the many countries and cultures of Africa (which people online seem to think is one country, rather than a continent with many distinct countries and cultures).  As I hunt down some of these missing pieces, I’ll add them in.

Continue reading Clothing Resources

Resources for Speculative Fiction Writers

At Marscon 2018, I moderated a panel discussion on resources for speculative fiction writers.  I’ll share a bit of our discussion here to tide you over as I prepare several posts (which will all be tagged and available under the resources link in the main menu) with links to tools and essays that may be of use to writers (especially those who write fantasy, science fiction, and horror).

The questions below are some I asked my panelists.  The answers are a summary of the collective discussion.  Huge thanks to Kathryn SullivanNaomi Kritzer, and Ozgur K. Sahin, who are always excellent to talk shop with. 

Continue reading Resources for Speculative Fiction Writers

Sword Haircut

About three years ago I chopped off my hair with a tanto.  For research.  And fun. To help other writers who might need to include this in their stories, I recorded the process. 

This past summer I repeated the exercise with a slightly different technique and a freshly sharpened sword  (it’s classified as a large tanto or a small wakizashi).

Fantasy writer doing research.  Now I can write what I know and know what I write… regarding cutting one’s hair with a sword anyway.

Check out my other research and resources for writers posts here.