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Reference Sources: What are they good for?
Reference sources are books and e-books that provide general background information; they are great for giving you an overview or an introduction to a topic. They are often the best starting place for your research. Use reference sources to:
- Choose and develop a research topic
- Introduce yourself to a topic's most important aspects
- Find reliable, factual information about your topic
The most valuable reference sources for your research will often be encyclopedias: books containing articles (sometimes very short, sometimes more detailed) on a wide variety of subjects. If you have an idea for a topic, and want to find out more about it, or possibly narrow it down, academic encyclopedias are a great place to look, because they provide authoritative, reliable background information which is:
- Written by experts
- Usually written for non-experts
They also often provide suggested further reading on your topic, which can help you continue your research.
So as you get started with your research topic, try looking in a reference source!
Finding reference sources: online
The library has several online collections of reference sources which allow you to search across hundreds of different reference e-books to find articles related to your topic.
Use this box to search the library's online reference collections using OneSearch:
A searchable collection of E-book reference titles that includes encyclopedias, almanacs, handbooks, dictionaries, directories, and specialized reference sources.
An online collection of reference books including dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, biographies, statistics, quotations, and audio and image files from many different publishers.
CQ Researcher Online
Full-text reports on current and controversial issues, with in-depth coverage of political and social issues, such as health, education, the environment, technology, and the U.S. economy.
Science reference database including the latest edition of the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, research updates from the McGraw-Hill Yearbooks, thousands of illustrations, the latest Science News headlines, biographies, and more.
Finding reference sources: print
While most of the library's reference sources are available online, we also have a number of print reference books. These books are:
- Located on the main floor of the library in the back.
- For in library use only.
- Designated with a "R" at the beginning of the call number (ex. R 398.369 W495)
If you're looking for a print reference book related to your topic, you can browse this collection, or ask a librarian for help!
A word about Wikipedia
Wikipedia is an example of a free online reference source-- it's popular because it's so broad and easy to use.
But it's often not a great source to use in academic writing, because:
- Anyone can edit articles, and all edits are anonymous, so you don't know who's responsible for what you're reading, what their level of expertise is, and what their biases or agenda may be.
- Articles change all the time: what's there today may not be there tomorrow.
So, many professors will ask that you not cite Wikipedia in your assignments or cite it only as a last resort.
The library's reference sources aim to provide background information like that found in Wikipedia, but from sources you can confidently cite and use in your paper.