Informational films that could be applicable to your research topic are similar to nonfiction books. There are films for a wealth of topics—you only need to figure out how to find them. Begin with your library's reference librarian for assistance. You may have no idea whether your library has a relevant film, or how to find it in the library, but the reference librarian can tell you if anything is available. Libraries, especially college and university libraries, generally have a number of films available. These are often in a 16 mm format, so you may have to view them while at the library.


A documentary is a nonfiction film that uses actual people, rather than actors playing parts, to describe the facts about a person, an event, or an issue. A multitude of different individuals and organizations produce these films. A documentary film about a person is comparable to reading a biography, because it too follows someone's life and the important things that he or she did. A documentary film about an event presents information in chronological order. Such a documentary is sometimes filmed in real time during the event, or sometimes filmed after the fact, based on personal narratives and/or other historical data. A documentary about an issue covers the people and places affected by the issue as it develops. Documentaries work well as a research source because they follow a story from beginning to end and disclose a wide range of information about the topic.

There are a variety of film catalogs that list films that have been produced and are usually available for use at a library. Each catalog specializes in a different genre or a different era or a different country. The catalog listings include a summary of each film and any related historical information. They may also include the names of the writer, director, and actors.

Promotional Films

Promotional films are those put out by companies or organizations about a product or a cause. Their purpose is to inform the public and also to encourage people to buy something or to contribute money. Though these aren't educational films, they still contain a lot of information that could be useful to you, depending on your topic. You may find such films at a library, but are more likely to have to contact whoever made the film you need. The company that produces a product would probably have a promotional film about that product. For instance, if a company came out with a new product for cleaning up oil spills in the ocean, it might produce a promotional film to send to any groups who were potential purchasers of their product. If your research paper topic were “Exploring New Methods for Cleaning Up Oil Spills,” that company's film would be of interest to you. A promotional film about a cause would be made by the organization that supports the cause or informs the public about it. For example, an organization raising funds for relief of world hunger may come out with a film showing people in poverty-stricken areas that have no food. If the topic of your research paper were “Humanitarian Relief Doesn't Go to Those Who Need It,” you would benefit from the things you would learn watching that promotional film.

Because these films are promotional in nature, you need to be able to distinguish between factual information and persuasive sales pitch. Consider the information in these sources carefully and follow up any facts that don't seem to be credible. These films are produced with the goal of making money from them.

Educational Films

Schools and universities use educational films to teach their students about a particular topic. These films cover a wide range of topics that are taught as part of the curriculum. They are not produced to express any opinions; they present only facts (although you should be alert to any obvious biases). Educational films are used to teach a new skill or to support one already learned,

or to present information on a topic, such as a country, animal, phenomenon, and so on. They are sometimes popular with instructors because many students learn better by seeing things in addition to hearing about them. Films are particularly effective when they are used to back up or reinforce written material. The best way to find this type of film is to contact a school board or a university directly rather than going through its library.

Be sure to only use a fictional movie as a research source if it truly adds to your research. Adding details that are outside the scope of your topic is unnecessary and leaves the resulting paper cluttered.

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