Reference sources are excellent tools for gathering general information about a topic. In addition to print reference books, RSU Libraries offers online reference sources through the Credo and Gale databases. If you use reference sources in your research, keep the following in mind:
Reference sources are a great place to learn about a new topic
If you want to learn more about a new topic, reference sources are the perfect place to start. Unlike scholarly literature, which assumes that its audience is knowledgeable of its topic, reference sources give you basic information in straightforward language. If you need definitions, statistical information, or background information, reference sources should be your first stop.
Reference sources are not a substitute for scholarly literature
Reference sources provide summaries of topics; they are intended to be sources of objective and factual information. In general, they should not be used as supporting evidence in research papers. Although the reference sources available through the library are excellent sources of information, they are not considered peer-reviewed material. Some professors will not allow you to cite reference sources in your papers, so make sure you understand the expectations of the assignment beforehand.
Not all reference sources are reliable
If you are going to use reference sources for an assignment, make sure that they are published by a credible entity. Encyclopedias published by major research universities are usually the most appropriate sources for academic assignments. Be careful when using open source encyclopedias like Wikipedia; because anyone can edit these sites, their information may be unreliable. Finally, depending on your academic discipline, you will want to make sure that your reference sources are current.