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ENG W210: Literacy and Public Life

Reference Sources

Read some general information about your topic that can be found in a reference source. What is a reference source? It can be a database that contains encyclopedias, handbooks, atlases and other general knowledge. It can also be a print book that lives in the Stacks (shelves) or the Reference section of a library.

While background databases aren't sources you typically should use in your researched argument, these kinds of encyclopedia articles are a great starting point as they provide general information, context, potential subtopics, and more. Jot down some notes about what you read and keep track of where you found that information (i.e. record the citation of the encyclopedia article). Keep in mind the importance of using a source’s bibliography or list of references in your own research. 

Beyond Wikipedia - Finding Background Information

Once you have a research question and some keywords, the next step is to explore the topic. This step is important because it will build your knowledge, you'll discover possible new avenues for your research, you'll pick up the jargon of the discipline(s) you are working with and start to gather keywords and other search terms.

The library has a Reference section on Level 2 that you can browse. However, materials on different topics are located throughout the library, so you may prefer to start with our electronic reference databases. "Reference" is a library term for materials like encyclopedias that have quick answers. Think of Wikipedia, for example. The links below will take you to some of our academic reference databases:

You can also use Wikipedia to gather information. As the graphic above shows, you can use it as a starting place, but don't end up there; your professors typically prefer that you do not cite Wikipedia as a source.