Free Tools For Freelance Writers: Reference And Research

by Alicia Sparks on October 27, 2011

Just look at all those dusty tomes. #drool #swoon

Hi freelancer!

Welcome to Day 5 of the 7-Day Mini Course, “Free Tools for Freelance Writers: Save BIG While Starting Your Writing Business.”

Today’s focus is on how you can find free research and reference tools for your writing projects.

Of course, not just free, but also quality.

Most freelance writers have (or eventually develop) a niche (or a “beat” as it’s called in the journalism world), which is a topic they write about more often than all other topics.


As a freelance writer, you’ll soon find times – plenty of times – when you’ll need to write about things that aren’t exactly within your area of expertise…and you’ll almost always have to craft those written materials just so.

NOTE: The Internet is chock full of free research and reference tools, and many of them are credible. Obviously, this list is EXTREMELY abbreviated, but the goal is to provide you with a solid starting point. 🙂

Style Guides

  • The Yahoo! Style Guide: A one-stop shop for Web-writing style related issues. The Yahoo! Style Guide isn’t itself free, but the website provides tons of no-cost information, such as differences between Yahoo! and AP style preferences and The Yahoo! Word List which will help you with everything from the proper way to write 3G to when 9/11 is acceptable to “keyword” versus “key word.” You can even access the Tools of the Trade section which will help you with SEO and HTML coding – two things MANY freelance writers need to know.
  • AP Stylebook/Guide: Like The Yahoo! Style Guide, The AP Stylebook isn’t free; however, the Associated Press provides some free style rules on simple issues like punctuation, capitalization, and numerals within its Ask The Editor FAQ section. You can find similar information over at the Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).
  • The Chicago Manual of Style: What? Not free? Nope, not free. HOWEVER, you can get some citation basics from the official website, and once again, OWL provides everything from citing books and Web sources to lectures and unpublished materials.
  • The MLA Handbook: The good folks over at the Modern Language Association don’t provide much in the way of freebies, but once again OWL steps in and helps with an overview of the MLA Formatting and Style Guide.
  • The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual: There are both pay and free versions of this. The only catch is that the free version is entirely online (save paper, save trees!).
  • Feeling lucky (or desperate)? Enter a word or phrase, and this site presents you with a list of resources (everything from books to blog posts) that provide information about your query.
  • Citation Machine: The Citation Machine will help you properly cite your sources in MLA, APA, Chicago, and Turabian formats. You can find citations for a wide variety of books, journalism, multimedia, and social media items.

NOTE: Some clients implement their own style guides. For example, for five years I wrote for a company that used both The AP Stylebook and an in-house style guide, full of standards based on how the company wanted the information presented on its website.

Definitions, Spelling, Grammar, and Usage Galore!


  • Wikipedia: Okay, most likely this is not NEWS to you. You might even be thinking, “What?! We’re not supposed to rely on Wikipedia!” Well, don’t. However, unless otherwise stated (by something like “Citation Needed”), most Wikipedia articles cite sources from where the article information is drawn. Usually, you can rely on those.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Not down with Wikipedia? Try the more reputable Encyclopedia Britannica. Paid subscribers get more, but the free edition should suffice for most basic researching needs.
  • This site aims to thin the herd, so to speak, of the plethora of Web-based resources out there, making it easier for you to search for the information you need. At first glance, there’s a lot going on, so I recommend starting with the Introduction and Tour, which points you in the right direction based on your needs.
  • Fact Monster: It might look elementary, but this cartoonish site, part of the Pearson Education Family Education Network, provides facts about everything from sports and science to the United States and the rest of the world.
  • Internet Public Library: Search for information about the arts, business, entertainment, health, science, and more.

What Now?

I recommend creating a bookmark folder or two dedicated specifically to these kinds of reference and research tools; then, once a project rolls around that calls for them, you know exactly where to go.

Missed last week’s class? Head over to Free Tools For Freelance Writers: Communication.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: