Reference sources are authoritative works that are usually meant to be read for specific answers or information rather than cover-to-cover. You might want to use an encyclopedia or a dictionary to
Reference sources can be general in nature, like the English language Encyclopedia Britannica, or deal with a specific subject area, like Black's Law Dictionary or the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.
Wikipedia is a free online general encyclopedia which can be edited by anyone. Although misinformation will be identified and removed by other editors, there is a period of time such misinformation will be part of the body of knowledge concerning a topic. Therefore, you should be very careful when starting your search for background information on a topic in the Wikipedia. As a matter of fact, the website itself warns that
"[y]ou should not use Wikipedia by itself for primary research (unless you are writing a paper about Wikipedia)."
In addition to hundreds of print encyclopedias, we have two excellent online collections that contain titles from two highly respected academic publishers. If you are going to start by researching your topic in Wikipedia, certainly titles from these online reference collections or our print collection will help you verify and validate the information you find in the Wiki and provide a solid scholarly background for further research on your topic.
Reference sources can provide the following about a topic you might be exploring:
Specialized reference sources can also help you develop your research outline--look at the table of contents headings and subheadings.
Some of the most common types (forms) of reference sources are:
*Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Example: Search "globalization" as keyword. How many hits did you get? Some of the titles are very obviously appropriate, e.g., Globalization: The Reader or Globalization: a reference handbook. But why did this search return Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture? If you look at some of the index entries for this title, you'll see that there is an article on globalization on pages 444-448 that mentions Argentina, Brazil, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Chile, China, the copper industry, culture, democracy, environment and climate, the International Monetary Fund and many other entries.
Reference Universe can be particularly helpful because it identifies print as well as electronic reference sources anywhere in the UK Library system.