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College Writing: Places and Perspectives

Get Background Info - Reference Sources

Why use reference sources (encyclopedias, handbooks, dictionaries)?

  • Background information - They provide a summary or overview of a topic, which puts your topic in context and gives you a working knowledge. This also can help you narrow your topic.
  • Terms - Identify terms, jargon, key people and places provided by an expert. You can use in your searches.
  • Scholarly Conversation - Many include a bibliography with key texts for further research 

Option 1 - Search in online reference sources

Search your topic in these online encyclopedias (see list below). Try brainstorming different terms, from specific to broad.

For Example:

Oxford Reference Online  Search confederate monument

You can filter results by Subject on the left. Look for entries with several words. 

Multidisciplinary Encyclopedias and Reports (online)

Option 2 - Search the Catalog for Encyclopedias

Your topic* + encyclopedias in the WU Catalog

For Example:

"american art" encyclopedias

*TERM ALERT: Keep in mind that you are not searching the full text of the encyclopedias when you are searching the catalog.

  • This means you will probably need to do a BROAD keyword search.
  • You can start specific (confederate monument). If you don't get relevant results, try broader terms like "american art" or art.