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Field Guide to Research Sources

What type of source did you find? Use this field guide to identify it.

Encyclopedia articles

What they are: Articles in encyclopedias, either in print or online. Encyclopedias gather information from other sources and summarize that information.


What they give you: An overview of a topic, and citations to other sources.

Note: Encyclopedias are a great place to start your research, but all they do is summarize information from other sources. Summaries aren't as good as original sources, because summaries leave things out, and they sometimes misrepresent the original sources.

Therefore, don’t cite encyclopedias. Cite the original sources instead!


How to spot them: 

  • There are two titles: the title of the encyclopedia (e.g. "Wikipedia") and the title of the article (e.g. "France").
  • The article is a summary of the most basic facts about a certain topic.
  • The title of the article is not a full sentence. Instead, it’s just the subject of the article (e.g. “France”).
  • There are usually citations at the end of the article.


What they look like in library search results:
Screenshot of an encyclopedia article as it appears in a list of Quest search results


What electronic encyclopedia articles look like:
Screenshot of a full-text encyclopedia article in a database


What encyclopedias in print look like:An encyclopedia opened to a particular article