These days, with the general inclination to conduct research using electronic sources, it is easy for a student to forget some of the basic reference sources that have served students so well for many years. These general sources are invaluable. Many of them do have electronic counterparts, but we still believe in the great process of leafing through volumes of reference sources in an attempt to familiarize yourself with the subject. The great problem with electronic research is that you pretty much lose the serendipitous find – looking through a volume for one subject in coming upon another that happens to be nearby.
The purpose of the general reference sources we will discuss, is to gather preliminary information on your subject, and to inject your paper with facts, definitions and general information that will enhance your own theories.
There are many different types of encyclopedias. Although most general ones are not really appropriate for academic research, they are good starting points. Most libraries will have a variety of encyclopedias and you should consult them if you are unfamiliar with your subject. What you may not realize is that there are a number of specialized encyclopedias that are sort of middle ground. They contain a greater number of subjects in their respective fields and explore them in greater depth. Here is a list of some of the more popular, specialized encyclopedias you are likely to find in your library.
Though we are separating dictionaries into a separate category from encyclopedias, they serve similar purposes. There are as many different dictionaries as there are encyclopedias – from single-volume ready reference sources to multivolume works that you may use as part of your more extensive research. What probably pops into your head when you hear the term dictionary is a standard reference book you use to look up the definition of a word. Dictionaries may go into much more depth and be useful when researching the etymology of the term (how it came into being), or important style and usage points.
Statistical Sources and Fact Books
These range from ready reference books to detailed statistical sources. The biggest publisher of statistical information is the United States government. The plethora of government statistics can be very difficult to make your way through. Keep in mind that reference librarians can be of great help in accomplishing this task. Use the following references to seek statistics and facts that will support your work and enhance the worth of your research paper.
Britannia Book of the Year is a yearly supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. It contains information about newsworthy events of the year. Use it to update the information you have researched that may be needed. Also, don’t forget to check out previous yearbooks for historical information on your topic. Those encyclopedias publish yearbooks – they can be very useful reference tools.
World Almanac and Book of Facts, published annually by the newspaper enterprise Association since 1868, is a wonderful quick source of statistical and news information. DE; to verify who Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second vice president was? Perhaps you need to know about the gross national product of a certain country. The World Almanac is updated yearly, but older copies are excellent for historical research.
Facts on file: Weekly World News Digest with Cumulative Index is updated weekly with factual current events. It is an excellent place to verify statistics and information. Cumulative indexes are published every five years.
Vertical File Index, published by H. W. Wilson, is indexed to pamphlets and booklets – the kind that is kept in the vertical files of your library. The reference librarian may have his own vertical-file index to clippings and files of local interest. You can ask for information on your subject.
The Statistical Abstract of the United States is an annual publication of the United States Bureau of the consensus that has a great deal of demographic and census information.
Statistical Yearbook and Demographic Yearbook are valuable sources of information that are published by the United Nations every year.
Atlases and Gazetteers
Atlases are collectors of maps and gazetteers are books of geographic information. Whether you need to know a specific location or population or find an illustration for the report, you should be familiar with how to use these reference tools. Atlases usually have a comprehensive index to place-names that will reference a map and location on that map. Gazetteers are usually arranged alphabetically by place-name.