- Find credible sources using tools that are designed to find the types of sources you need.
Here are some fantastic resources and tips on how to use them to their fullest extent:
Librarian/Digital Media Specialist/Teacher
– Tell one of these people your research topic and ask them to point you towards useful sources. Chances are that they know more about what’s available about your particular topic than you do. Depending on the size of your school, you may have a subject area librarian for the particular type of research you are doing. Some universities, for instance, have specialist librarians for topics like music, art, and humanities.
Tip: When asking your librarian or teacher, just be sure to be tactful. Remember: librarians are there to help, but they won’t do all your research for you.
– These journals are a great way to find cutting edge research on your topic. Academic journals add credibility and professionalism to a paper. They work well for both humanities and scientific papers. Most schools/universities have a subscription to a large database of academic journals. Some commonly used databases are JSTOR and EBSCO Host. If you don’t know what types of services your school subscribes to, ask your teacher/librarian about them.
Another great way to access academic papers is Google Scholar. It is a search tool that finds scholarly articles–academic journals, patents, theses, court proceedings, and more. Google Scholar displays how many times an academic piece of literature was cited, which is a rough numerical indicator of how influential the research was. Google Scholar also has link under each posting to help you find related articles.
Microsoft has a competitor to Google Scholar that is very similar, Microsoft Academic Search. Microsoft’s tool works particularly well for technical papers in fields such as physics, mathematics, biology, and engineering.
– Books are still one of the best ways to find credible information about a source. Some fields such as the humanities prefer their students use books for sources rather than websites, since books typically contain more detailed information (and perhaps more in-depth thinking) than websites do. Books can be found on your school or public library website. Type in keywords related to your topic in the search field, and see what kinds of literature comes up. Write down the call number of the book so that you can find it within your library. Ask your librarian for help if you’re not sure how your library is organized.
Google has another service, Google Books, that will help you find books related to your topic. Just type your research topic into the field and Google Books will provide you with a list of relevant books. Once you click on a book you like, Google Books will give you a preview of the book and information related to buying the book or finding it in your library.
– Websites are sources you should approach with caution. Some experts publish great information on the Internet, but there’s a lot of bad information out there as well. The trick is to weed out the unreliable information. The section entitled “Evaluating sources for credibility” is all about that process. Here, we’ll discuss some great resources that will help you find good information.
Tip: Multipurpose search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo) aren’t necessarily trying to provide you with the best academic results. They help people with a lot of things (shopping, searching for flights, comparing restaurants). You don’t want all of these sorts of results to get mixed up in your research!
Here are some tools that help you find information for a particular field of interest:
|Subject||Name of tool||Comments|
|Medical||PubMed||Searchable database of academic medical literature; managed by the US National Library of Medicine.|
|Medical||GoPubMed||A feature-rich compilation of academic medical literature.|
|Medical||Medline Plus||Easy-to-read guides and videos; not as technical as other medical search engines; managed by the National Institutes of Health,|
|Humanities||JURN||A curated search engine for humanities researchers.|
|Humanities||Project Muse||A database of over 200 non-profit publishers.|
|Economics||NBER – National Bureau of Economic Research||Searchable database of economic papers.|
|Crime||National Criminal Justice Reference Services||A database of articles about issues pertaining to the justice system, including court cases, crime prevention, drugs, etc.|
|General||OAIster||Feature-rich search tool for a variety of different sources; managed by the OCLC.|
|General||Refseek||A powerful, general-purpose search engine that finds websites, academic papers, books, newspapers, and more. The site has a variety of features that help you narrow down your search.|
|General||Sweet Search||A search engine crafted specifically for students. Every website that shows up as search result has been hand-picked by research experts.|
|General||iSeek||An education-focused general search engine with helpful tools to narrow down your search|
|General||ipl2||The site contains a search engine and an index of helpful, credible sites arranged by topic.|
|General||EasyBib Research (Beta)||EasyBIb research makes the bibliographies on our site searchable, so you can look at sources about your topic that other students are using.|
|Chemistry||PubChem||Contains academic chemistry information; managed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|Philosophy||PhilPapers||A database of academic papers related to philosophy.|
|Science||Science.gov||A resource of scientific papers and information; overseen by the US government.|
|Science||Scirus||A search engine geared towards scientific information.|
|Science||Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)||A database of scholarly scientific information.|
|Statistics||US Census Bureau||Statistics in the US, arranged topically (Education, Business, Agriculture, etc.).|
|Statistics||CIA World Factbook||Statistics, reports, maps, history, and other information about 267 countries.|
Tip: Many schools have online topic pages, where the school’s librarians have grouped together helpful resources dedicated to a particular topic like chemistry, history, or religious studies. The LibGuides at Rice University is one example.
1) A note on large search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo)
- Use Google when you are doing preliminary research or looking for a particular source
- In other cases, you’re probably better off using a more academically-oriented source.
As far as research is concerned, Google is a double-edged sword. (The pros/cons of Google apply to other major search engines such as Bing and Yahoo as well.)
First, the benefits of Google’s search engine: It’s fast and provides you with a lot of information.
But the list of negatives is weighty:
Many of Google’s search results are biased and non-academic.
Several of the websites that appear in Google’s results are written by businessmen who are trying to sell you something. They aren’t interested in presenting you with unbiased data.
Google’s search results are tailored to you
(based on your past browsing history, your location, the sites you’ve visited previously, etc.). The problem with this individualization of search results is that Google is not providing you with the best information, it’s giving you what it thinks you’ll click on. Those may be two separate things.
Google’s results are focused on information available on the internet space that is easily accessed.
There is a large amount of great information available on the “invisible web” that Google cannot find. The invisible web consists of sites that are not linked to externally, which makes them hidden from Google’s searching and indexing software.
For these reasons, we have a couple of reservations about using Google’s search engine for research purposes. To help, we’ve drafted a couple general rules about when and when not to use Google.
Use Google’s search engine…
- When you’re doing preliminary research (assessing the depth and breadth of your topic).
- When you know of a specific source, and you just need to find it on the Internet.
Try using another resource other than Google’s search engine…
- When you want to find an academic article.
- When you’re looking for a primary source.
- When you’re looking for a technical paper.
2) A note on Wikipedia
- Information on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone–not necessarily an expert.
- Use Wikipedia as a starting point for your research.
- Check Wikipedia’s references at the bottom of the page. Those sources are more likely to be credible than Wikipedia itself.
Like Google’s search engine, Wikipedia is a mixed bag. It provides a great deal of relevant information in a very fast manner, but that information is not necessarily credible. Content on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone–not necessarily an expert or credible author.
The editors at Wikipedia have come a long way in policing the site for bad posts and flagging items without citations; but you should always be suspect of information on the site because of its public nature.
Therefore, Wikipedia is best used at the start of your research to help you get a sense of the breadth and depth of your topic. It should never be cited in an academic paper.
Another reason why Wikipedia should not be cited in an academic research paper is that it aims to be like an encyclopedia–a source of reference information, not scholarly research or primary or secondary sources. One must delineate between general reference for general knowledge and scholarly sources for in-depth knowledge and research. Facts from reputable encyclopedias or similar sources can be used to supplement a paper, but keep in mind that these sources won’t contain any juicy analysis or scholarly study.
Perhaps the most useful part of a Wikipedia page is the “References” section at the bottom, which contains links to relevant sites that are often more credible than the Wikipedia page itself. Use a discerning eye when viewing these citations and apply the best practices of evaluating credible information (see “Evaluating sources for credibility”).
In this day and age, it seems everything online has a price associated with it. Whether you’re subscribing to a pay site for full articles or clicking on ads in a blog, everything online seems to have money associated with it. Luckily there’s still a large, and very healthy, movement online for media files listed under the Creative Commons licenses.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, these are files you can use in the creation of web sites and other media, free of charge. However, do be mindful that there are different degrees of the license, and some of them are for private use only, or they may require that you include an attribution to the original creator. Make sure to read and understand the various licenses, and which one each file you discover uses.
When this article was first published in 2009, SitePoint had gathered over 30 of the best resources online for audio, video, images and more for use in your next project. As the years have passed, the Creative Commons movement has gained a lot of momentum. While a few of the sites in the initial list have gone silent, the new updated list boasts a much larger number of new entries.
How large? Too large to go into full details for each entry. That’s why we will highlight, for each section, five websites we find most interesting, while the rest of the entries will follow in alphabetical order. All this being said, it’s time to get things rolling.
Free audio clips and songs essentially have a limitless number of uses, from playing in the background of videocasts, to being the opening theme to a podcast, or even just being used as a sound effect when users click on a link. Of all the resources out there, Creative Commons licensed music has the most potential uses for content creators and designers alike.
The spread of media creation on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms has raised the demand for quality audio clips that can be used by small content creators without losing the option to monetize their content. It’s no surprise these kinds of resources are very popular. The large number of new entries on our list proves it.
ccMixter offers up thousands of Creative Commons licensed remixed songs in just about every genre available. Make sure to read each track’s info page to see just which version of the license it follows.
MusOpen is the online repository for music in the public domain. The vast majority of the tracks are classic music with all the famous composers present in the lineup. There’s also a large collection of sheet music, as well as numerous music education resources.
FMA – Free Music Archive
The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads where all of the audio has been hand-picked by one of their established audio curators. Every MP3 you discover on The Free Music Archive is pre-cleared for certain types of uses that would otherwise be prohibited by copyright laws not designed for the digital era.
TeknoAXE hosts a very large collection of music (over 1200), with new pieces added every week. All songs are distributed under CC 4.0 license and are free to use everywhere as long as one posts the attribution info.
Silverman Sound Studios
Siverman Sound Studios is the place where musician Shane Ivers shares his music. You can browse through almost 100 free songs in various genres — all of them being offered under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Other websites offering audio resources
If you couldn’t find the tracks you wanted in the featured entries above, don’t despair. One can find plenty of audio tracks under Creative Commons license in the following websites (listed here in alphabetical order):
While it’s great to have all of this Creative Commons media out there for people to use, finding it can be a whole different matter. Luckily, there are several sites that have come along to ease your pain and help you search for just the right files. While some, such as the Archive.org one, only search their site, their collection is so extensive, it’s still worth including.
Creative Commons Search
The first stop in a generic CC search should be the search interface provided by the Creative Commons organization itself. While not a search engine in itself, this tool instead connects to various other search engines and resources in order to fetch the best result.
They also provide a beta version of a new tool dedicated only to image search, which you can access at ccsearch.creativecommons.org.
Most people only think of Archive.org for the Wayback Machine, but it also offers up a huge selection of audio, video and text documents under the Creative Commons license.
Everyone knows about Wikipedia. Not that many people know about its Creative Commons section, Wikimedia Commons. This is a collection of over 40 million media files that may be freely reused subject to certain restrictions (in many cases). Be sure though to check the license details for each file to see how you can use it.
Let’s CC is a Korean website that acts as an interface to search for CC licensed files. It doesn’t have an index of its own, instead using other search engines like Flickr or YouTube. Just like in every other case, make sure to check the license details for each file.
The Public Domain Project by Pond5
Pond5 initiated the Public Domain Project as a way to make historic media files available for your creative projects. With over 60 thousand files in the collection, it is a place worth checking.
Mainstream search engines
Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need a specialized tool to find Creative Commons resources. The same thing can be done using either of the mainstream search engine. No matter if you prefer Google, Bing, Yahoo or something else, add “Creative Commons” to any of your media search query and you should get some good results.
Back in 2009, finding free pictures under a Creative Commons license was a fairly daunting task, as most of the market was dominated by the stock photography sites. Fast forward several years and we find that this is the category of resources with the greatest growth. Where our initial list had 10 entries, the updated lineup has over 70 items. This makes the job of selecting 5 featured websites even more difficult, and it’s inevitable not everyone might agree with our pick.
A special mention needs to be made to a subcategory of websites — the one author collections. Many photographers have chosen to offer their work under various flavors of Creative Commons license. In some cases, a few people pooled their images together for a larger collection. While the total number of pictures in each of these websites is not that large, you can find amazing shots that won’t be featured anywhere else.
Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr was, and still remains, the best place to find images licensed under Creative Commons. There are pre-filtered searches for each flavor of CC with results often numbering in the tens of millions. Some of the entries in the list below are powered by the Flickr API. This is definitely the first website you should visit if you’re searching for Creative Commons pictures.
Unsplash is, without a doubt, the poster child of the free pictures movement that has taken the internet by storm over the last several years. What started in 2013 as a Tumblr site with 10 pictures leftover from a photoshoot is today a thriving community with over 200,000 images, more daily views than The New York Times, close to 100 million downloads, and partnerships with industry giants such as Apple.
500px Creative Commons
500px is another community portal aiming to replace Flickr, as the latter has been fading out of public interest over the last decade. With over 12 million users, it looks like they can back up their claims. And just like Flickr, they offer similar predefined searches to make it easier for you to find out any images released under Creative Commons licenses.
Pixabay is another example of a thriving online community focused on sharing photos, illustrations, vector graphics and videos. Unlike Flickr and 500px, all content is exclusively available under CC0 — meaning they’re all part of the public domain. All submissions are screened and approved before being admitted, and there’s even an API for all you app developers out there.
Last of the featured spots goes to Libreshot. We’re dipping here into the growing pool of single-author websites — in this case that of Martin Vorel, from Prague, Czech Republic. There are several hundred pictures available, and you can view the most popular images over the last 24 hours, 30 days or from the beginning of the site.
Other websites offering creative commons images
As promised above, we have here a very large list of websites, arranged in alphabetical order.
The use of the licensed texts can be a bit odd, but they’re great for pulling quotes and phrases from to go in site headers.
Project Gutenberg started in 1971 and can be safely considered the first digital repository of public-domain content. The philosophy behind the project is to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search.
The IntraText library contains over 12 millions texts dating back as far as 900 B.C., and as recent as the 21st century. Make sure to check what license is used for each resource individually before using it.
The Wisdom Commons is a place to find and discuss information about virtues that human beings generally agree are important — like generosity, compassion and courage, and so on. This is backed up with several thousands quotes, poems, fables, essays and other similar works that are all free to use.
The Public Domain Review
The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.
The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
The CGP is the finding tool for federal publications that includes descriptive information for historical and current publications as well as direct links to the full document, when available. Users can search by authoring agency, title, subject, and general keywords.
Other websites offering creative commons texts, books and publications
Just as before, here are some other websites leading to lesser-known caches of public domain and creative commons texts.
More and more of the web is turning to video, and online video viewing has hit an all time high. Nowadays, there’s a very large demand for quality stock video that’s free to use without paying a fortune for the right to do it. If you find yourself needing such videos, here’s where you should start searching.
Vimeo Creative Commons
Vimeo is aiming to be the second largest video community after YouTube. They back this position with one of the largest collections of Creative Commons licensed videos and by providing the tools to find these videos fast enough to matter.
Videvo offers completely free stock video footage and motion graphics for use in any project. It boasts a collection of around 6000 clips and more are added every day. But be sure to check all the details of the license before you use the clips.
We’ve featured Pixabay in the Images section and for good reason. We’re mentioning here again as it also boasts a great collection of video clips in HD and 4K resolution.
This list of featured websites must include Flickr and its over 95,000 videos licensed under Creative Commons. While most of them are amateur home made clips, you can find some hidden gems to use in your projects.
Open Images is an open media platform that offers online access to audiovisual archive material to stimulate creative reuse. Open Images also provides an API, making it easy to develop mashups. Access to the material on Open Images is provided under the Creative Commons licensing model.
Other websites offering creative commons video resources
Here are some more places where you can go searching for creative commons licensed video clips.
Wrapping things up
Here we are at the end of our journey, with a huge list of new places to search for various Creative Commons resources. Hopefully this will make it a lot easier for you to find the right media for your projects.
Adrian is a front-end developer and UX enthusiast based in Dublin, Ireland. He's focused on CSS architecture, responsive web design and website performance. He believes in giving back to the community, being involved in running three local meetups and he started speaking at international events. In the off time, he loves playing video games and tinker with custom PC builds.