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Choosing & Identifying the Best Source Types for Your Research

Learn about all the different source types and when they are appropriate and helpful to you in the research process: encyclopedias, Wikipedia, books, scholarly articles, popular articles and magazines, trade magazines, news, and websites!

Specialized Reference Sources

*Don't know where to start with your research? 

*Have no idea what to write about? 

*Want an expert in your discipline to provide you with pertinent information and suggestions? 

Start with a specialized encyclopedia or handbook!

Professors may have told you not to use "encyclopedias" in your research.  They were probably referring to general encyclopedias (like Britannica), not the specialized, topical encyclopedias that may be highly valuable as you explore your topic.

Specialized encylopedias are written by experts in the field and will provide you with both overviews of and context for your topic while suggesting narrower topics to explore as well. Use the references and bibliographies included therein to find more sources on aspects that interest you. 

Save both energy and time by exploring these reference sources!

Source Types


Used for



and other specialized reference sources, such as:

  • Handbooks
  • Dictionaries (A-Z entries, just shorter articles than  encyclopedias
  • Atlases
  • Factbooks.

·     Covers basic facts, definition, history, concepts, theories, authors, and terms on a subject.

·     Provides references to major scholarly works in the discipline.

·     Articles are written by subject experts.

·     There are general and subject encyclopedias.

·     Can be in print or online format. Online encyclopedias are available through library subscription databases.


·     Find background information on topics.

·     Find and confirm facts & definitions.

·     Provide terms for further research in the online catalog or journal databases. 

·     Provide further reading on the subject.

·     A good place to start a research.


·     Limited in depth.