​Encyclopedias are not a bad place to start. Make sure you are using a reputable one. Find one that cites its sources (even Wikipedia does this). Use the encyclopedia to learn general concepts about your topic, keywords, and commonly used references, but do not cite it in your paper.


A NOTE ON WIKIPEDIA: skip the wikipedia article and go straight to the sources. Try to find the sources on the list. Prioritize those those that are recent and come from books or reputable journals.


Find these sources by going to ClassLink (see link at top of this page). Use the search box to quickly find the title.

If you don't find the title this way, try editing your ClassLink page. Click the pencil icon and choose to add apps.

  • World Book ​​ (make sure you are on the Advanced version)

  • ​Gale Virtual Reference Library (be sure to choose the CMHS version)

  • TeachingBooks.net   << not technically an encyclopedia, but a great resource for background on literature 

​Find these sources by clicking on the title of each source.

The following information is excerpted from https://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/paperref.htm

The Following are Usually NOT Acceptable References

  • Class Lecture Notes

  • Textbooks

  • Encyclopedias

  • Dictionaries

  • Popular Books

  • Popular Magazines

  • Newspapers

  • Radio and TV Broadcasts

  • The Internet


Why? For the most part, they are not original sources. So why do we have encyclopedias and textbooks? To provide an overview or introduction to a topic for complete beginners. These are meant to get you started on a subject; they are not research documents. If you want to document a point in a textbook or encyclopedia article, locate the original source for the idea. Start with the sources cited by the textbook or encyclopedia. I have written tons of encyclopedia articles, and I strive to do the most accurate job possible, but I know the limitations of encyclopedias from all angles.


But won't that take a lot of time? Yes. That's why you start work on research papers as soon as they are assigned.

I can't use the Internet? Not the way most people do. Most of what is on the Internet is the electronic equivalent of the other print sources listed and therefore not acceptable as a college reference. Also it's unregulated and there is no quality control. You can only use the Internet if it's the equivalent of other acceptable sources.



If the medium itself is the subject of your paper: for example, how textbooks have treated gender roles over time, or how dictionaries have defined controversial terms, or how popular magazines have treated AIDS. If your subject is children's literature, The Cat in the Hat might be an acceptable reference.


If the topic is a fast-moving one where most of the information has flowed through the news media, newspapers may be acceptable. However, for subjects like AIDS, Comet Hale-Bopp, or the Space Shuttle, where the quantity of published information is huge, newspapers are not acceptable.


Many instructors forbid reference to Wikipedia at all. This surprises me, because I didn't think many professors allowed encyclopedia citations, period. Don't do it even if permitted, as a general rule. Just like you can drive 65 miles an hour in a dense fog, but it's not a good idea. Wikipedia suffers from the problem that it is not a primary source and has very weak quality control. More recently it's suffered from the problem of deliberate sabotage, vandalism, and censorship. It's generally reliable for checking routine facts and extremely specialized topics, and it's often the only source on popular culture. But don't use it if you're not familiar enough with the subject matter to spot biases or errors.

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