This is the "Encyclopedias & Background Info" page of the "Quick Start Research Guide" guide.
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Quick Start Research Guide  

Last Updated: Jul 15, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Encyclopedias & Background Info Print Page

Online Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias can provide a great introduction to a topic. In general, relying heavily on encyclopedias as the basis of college-level work is frowned upon. Two good uses for encyclopedias: (1) get yourself up to speed on a topic and identify key issues and possible search terms; (2) use their Works Cited pages to get leads to actual primary and secondary literature on a topic. Those are the types of things you should be citing in your academic work.

  • Britannica Online
    Standard scholarly source for overviews of topics.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library
    Search across dozens of scholarly encyclopedias.
  • Wikipedia
    As you probably know, ANYONE can edit Wikipedia -- so take what you read with a grain of salt. That said, studies have shown that Wikipedia content is often quite accurate, especially in the sciences. Best bet: Use as a starting point; verify and cite any important facts using more standard sources. Tip: check out the Discussion and View history tabs to see how the Wikipedia editing community is handling a topic.


Wikipedia can be a great first stop to bring yourself up to speed on a topic. Stephen Colbert demonstrates why it may not be the best choice to cite as a scholarly source.


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