The LAC virtual research team conducts research across an encyclopedic range of topics for business and legal clients. For example:
- Statistical data encompassing everything from economics to demographics.
- Background information to provide essential context for legal matters.
- Business information to lend insights to decision makers.
- Intelligence on key competitors and competitive threats.
While they work mostly with subscription-based services—whether those of the clients or our own—the team is adept at identifying the best possible sources to gather information, including reliable, no-cost research tools.
“Free research” has become something of a holy grail, yet information that’s freely available can be inaccurate, outdated, biased, speculative or created primarily as marketing—not to mention fake news! Subscription services and other authenticated publications and references have been carefully vetted for accuracy and quality. Finding free resources that are also trustworthy and relevant requires some discipline, diligence and scrutiny.
Exceptional, free Internet sources do exist though, and knowing which ones to go to can be both cost effective and extremely helpful. I recently polled our virtual research team to discover the free online information resources they find valuable. Following are some of their favorites, in no particular order.
I hope you find this a useful collection to add to your research toolkit!
1. The United States Census Bureau
The Census Bureau site describes itself as “the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.” It includes not only US population statistics but also an economic census of American business and a census of US state and local governments, including finance and public employment data. The Bureau also offers fourteen different reports covering key economic indicators and much more.
What one LAC researcher has to say:
“Census.gov is a terrific resource with ready-made reports on a tremendous variety of topics related to people and the economy and tools for analysis and data sets to download and use. Their methods for gathering data are clearly stated to provide assurances as to quality. I have recommended the use of Census data throughout my career. It’s a tool I use for my clients and my own research work.”
2. Google Scholar
This academic literature database lets users search across numerous scholarly disciplines, with sources encompassing articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, and representing academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.
“A tremendous boon for finding full text for abstracts and works cited and referenced in other materials already in hand,” says one person on the team.
PubMed offers over 28 million citations for biomedical literature from the US National Library of Medicine database (MEDLINE), life science journals and online books. The database encompasses the fields of biomedicine and health, with coverage of the life sciences, behavioral sciences, chemical sciences and bioengineering.
Observes one LAC researcher:
“Now that the US Government requires researchers who receive substantial governmental support to freely publish findings to the public, PubMed has become a go-to source. The draft versions available on PubMed are highly informative and provide an opportunity to preview an important study prior to making a purchase of the peer-reviewed version. PubMed also offers the final version of some articles and frequently links to publications for ease of purchase.”
RXList describes itself as an online resource providing detailed, current pharmaceutical information about brand and generic drugs. It offers continuous drug reviews and updates, and includes articles authored by pharmacists and physicians, with data provided by reputable sources including the FDA, Cerner Multum, and First Databank.
One analyst commends RXList as a “reliable source for medical and pharma-related research.”
5. The Internet Archive
The Internet archive bills itself as “a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form.” It currently archives over twenty years of web history, encompassing some 279 billion web pages and actively works with partners to identify and archive significant web pages.
A great tool for business and competitive intelligence, one LAC researcher finds it “a great source for tracking down historical information on company websites.”
The website for US federal legislative publications and related materials, the content encompasses legislation, the Congressional Record, committee reports, treaty documents, legislative process materials and more.
A valuable source offering “updates on recent legislation and legislative histories.”
7. Companies House
Companies House is the UK’s registrar of companies, whose mandate is to incorporate companies, to register company information and to make company info publicly available. The site allows for searching of UK companies by name, obtaining information on current and former officers, retrieving copies of company documents and searching company name changes.
Notes a LAC researcher,
“I like Companies House for finding info on businesses in the UK.”
The National Information Center is a repository of financial data collected by the US Federal Reserve System:
“NIC is an amazing trove of publicly available information on financial institutions where the Federal Reserve has supervisory capacity, like organizational hierarchies, detailed financial reports and mergers and acquisitions.”
9. FDIC BankFind
BankFind allows you to locate and search on all FDIC-insured banking institutions.
People in finance are familiar with EDGAR, the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s online resource for searching the required SEC financial filings of public companies.
One LAC researcher says,
“EDGAR has always been reliable when our clients don’t have a more robust choice for searching for filings.”
System for Electric Document Analysis and Retrieval or SEDAR is essentially the Canadian version of EDGAR, offering access to most public securities documents filed by provincial and territorial securities regulatory authorities.
A LAC researcher values Bizjournals as “a great source for searching business news across the country.”
The site bills itself as “the largest publisher of metropolitan business newsweeklies in the United States, with 43 business publications across the US reaching more than 3.6 million readers each week.”
Morningstar is an investment research and management firm providing portfolio tools, analysis, ratings and commentary on mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and individual stocks. And although it is a fee-based resource, one of our research analysts turns to it sometimes because many of their features are available without a subscription.
14. The Lens
One Fortune 50 client relies on LAC for research on copyrights, patents and other intellectual property. As a resource for searching international patents, The Lens includes over 100 million patent records from more than 95 different jurisdictions and supplements its advanced search capabilities by also offering analysis functions and exploration tools.
One of our research analysts calls out The Lens as a good source for international patents research, with “information sometimes unavailable from other patent search sources like Espacenet or the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).”
A resource providing information about political campaign donor information and political funding, Opensecrets.org describes itself as “the nation’s premier research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy.”
While we don’t do much campaign research, team members find the site useful for other reasons:
“Opensecrets.org is a great spot to pick-up that extra piece of the puzzle when trying to find info on an individual.”
Additional information resources
Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory is a library directory and database providing information about magazines, scientific journals, newspapers and other serial publications. One of our researchers has found it a godsend:
“Every once in a while, it turns out that the obscure scientific paper the client needs is actually in a journal that’s freely available via public library resources. Also, many public libraries have very robust business information resources; Mergent and Business Insights Global, for example, are definitely worth more than their salt.”
Helpful Wikipedia lists:
- Academic Databases & Search Engines – Hundreds of online academic databases
- Dictionaries – English and multilingual online dictionaries
- Digital Library Projects – Hundreds of online digital libraries
- Magazines – Hundreds of online magazine archives
- Newspapers – Thousands of online newspaper archives
- Search Engines – Hundreds of search engines
LAC research analysts have experience and training using a wide range of information resources, both free and subscription-based. While we rely on the resources our clients prefer and provide us, we also have the know-how to supplement and extend information obtained from external sources.
Learn more about Library as a Service, our virtual research and other knowledge services.