Wikipedia & Encyclopedia

If you are unfamiliar with a topic and need some basic information to get started, one strategy is to consult an encyclopedia. Short articles in encyclopedias can provide context as well as basic facts and definitions of terms. Encyclopedia articles can also help further refine your topic.

Encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica are written and edited by authors who are known as experts in their field. In contrast, anyone may contribute to Wikipedia and edit the entries. Wikipedia articles are particularly useful for popular culture topics and finding recent developments on a current topic. However, think critically about the information you find there and be sure to cross-check that information with other sources.

Whether you are using Wikipedia, Britannica, or a more specialized encyclopedia, it is best to use these sources primarily as jumping-off points for more in-depth research rather than as the main source for a paper.  

If you are required to use academic or scholarly sources, you will need to go beyond encyclopedias and look for academic books or journal articles.

Academic libraries also provide access to highly specialized encyclopedias, such as Oxford Reference Online, with entries written by scholars in their specialized fields. You can find these in the subject-specific research guides.