Reference Works (Encyclopedias and Dictionaries)
General Information

Generally attempt to summarize topics and/or assist in finding secondary literature. The purpose of these sources is to answer short questions, provide background information, and help you find other sources. Reference works come in a wild assortment of types on all subjects.



  • Good starting points for research, particularly in unfamiliar topic areas (disciplinary handbooks, subject encyclopedias)
  • Good sources for quick facts, contact information, or statistics (almanacs, directories)
  • Good for discovering new vocabularies (dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias)
  • Provide lists of information sources on a topic (indexes, bibliographies)


  • Usually tools for finding more in-depth information sources, rather than being sources themselves.
  • Normally are found in the library's reference section and cannot be checked out. (Some are linked to a library's web page and can be accessed from anywhere.)
  • To start serious research, you should know enough about your topic to talk about it for 1 minute without repeating yourself.
  • Target audience: All types