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Reference Materials

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What are Reference Materials?

For the most part, reference materials provide background information. These sources answer who, what, where, when and why questions and are more useful for purposes of identification than for in-depth research. Your library's reference section is an excellent “first place to look” when conducting research.

Many different types of reference materials exist.

  • Almanacs - Almanacs include calendars, basic facts, and statistical information about people, places, and events. These sources contain specific, detailed information you might need to have to cite in a paper.

  • Bibliographies - Most often, when the word 'bibliography' is used in an academic setting it's referring to a list of sources used by the author to inform their work on a given topic. This means that you're going to include all the works that were read when researching the topic - whether or not they're used directly in your own writing.

  • Biographies - A biography, or simply bio, is a detailed description of a person's life. It involves more than just the basic facts like education, work, relationships, and death; it portrays a person's experience of these life events.

  • Dictionaries - A dictionary is an alphabetical listing of words and their meanings. Dictionaries help users look up definitions to get a better understanding of the word and an overall better understanding of a language or field.

  • Directories - Directories function somewhat like phone books. They provide names, addresses, telephone numbers, and URLs for companies or organizations. Some also list personnel, financial or other information.

  • Encyclopedias - An encyclopedia or is a reference work or compendium providing summaries of knowledge either from all branches or from a particular field or discipline. Encyclopedias are divided into articles or entries that are often arranged alphabetically by article name and sometimes by thematic categories. Encyclopedia entries are longer and more detailed than those in most dictionaries. 

  • Handbooks & Manuals - Handbooks and Manuals contain practical information on a topic. Handbooks on academic disciplines are gateways into the thinking of the field. Manuals are similar in that they contain practical information, but they are more instructional in nature. 

  • Statistics - Statistical sources provide quantitative data about every imaginable subject. They can be very useful in substantiating claims you make in your papers.  

  • Thesauri - A thesaurus is a reference work that lists the synonyms and sometimes antonyms of words. Synonyms are words with similar meanings, and antonyms are words with opposite meanings. The word 'thesaurus' comes from Greek, and it means 'treasure,' so we can think of a thesaurus as a treasury of words that can help us better understand the meanings of those words and use them more effectively and efficiently in our writing.

Reference Databases

Reference Books & E-Books

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