Say you're writing a report and need to double-check a fact or two. Or say you just heard something on TV or the radio and want to make sure it's correct. What do you do?
In the past, you reached for a print almanac or hardcover encyclopedia, or headed to the library. These days you're more likely to fire up Google (http://www.google.com), the best general-interest Web search engine. But despite its sophisticated search technology that helps you home in on relevant in-formation, Google can still be too scattershot an approach when fact-checking.
Nothing beats an almanac for quick facts on everyday items, and nothing beats InfoPlease.com as a source for free online almanacs. It offers a range of almanacs that cover world and domestic issues, history and government, business, society and culture, biography, health and science, arts and entertainment, and sports-not to mention a dictionary, concise encyclopedia, and atlas.
For more meaty material, you should surf to a full-fledged online encyclopedia. Britannica Online includes the full text of Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com), the world's best encyclopedia, along with a dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, audio and video clips, and links to other Web sites. You can read the first few sentences of encyclopedia articles for free, with full access costing $10 per month or $70 per year.
Though they're more concise, other excellent online encyclopedias include MSN Encarta (http://www.encarta.msn.com) and Encyclopedia.com.
Encarta, however, can be overloaded and slow, and some of its articles require you to have the CD-ROM version. Encyclopedia.com, along with providing free encyclopedia articles, includes links to eLibrary--a compilation of articles from thousands of newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio transcripts-for $25 per month or $125 per year.
The best biographical encyclopedia on the Web is Biography.com (http://www.biography.com), with more than 25,000 articles on both current and historical figures.
If it's word wisdom you're after, Dictionary.com may have it. It offers a dictionary and thesaurus as well as translation tools for Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. The site also includes links to foreign language, medical, science, and other dictionaries. An even more comprehensive translation site is AltaVista's Babelfish (http://world.altavista.com/tr). It handles the above languages plus Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
Another good word site is YourDictionary.com. Along with English-language and foreign-language dictionaries and various thesauri, it provides links to 60 specialized glossaries, from business and computing to law and medicine. …