Encyclopedias are great tools for gaining background information, putting your topic in context and identifying key terms, people and core resources. In addition to those above, you can search the catalog for your topic and add the word encyclopedias, for example: art encyclopedias.
Unlike traditional encyclopedia articles, which are usually professionally written and edited, anyone can edit Wikipedia: experts, amateurs, cranks—and you. This has advantages and disadvantages that need to be kept in mind if you use Wikipedia.
Advantages: Wikipedia's breadth and scope are unequalled, and it is usually very-up-to-date. Articles in many subjects—including technology, the sciences, and pop-culture—are often detailed and accurate. Since any one can change a Wikipedia article factual errors are often quickly corrected--at least in popular articles. As a result, it can be a useful place to get a quick and current overview of many topics.
Disadvantages: The quality of articles on more obscure and controversial topics varies greatly: these articles can be incomplete or idiosyncratic. In these areas, you are likely to be better off relying on a more traditional encyclopedia whether in-print or online.
In most cases, Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for an academic paper--though the same can be said about traditional encyclopedias.This does not mean that Wikipedia can't play a role in academic research: it can be a useful place to begin, but it is not where you should finish.
While some of the resources in this guide are freely available, most research databases and electronic journals and many online library services have access restrictions that require that you be a current Washington University student, faculty member, or staff member. See this page for help.