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SOC 210: Research Methods: Find Background

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Reference sources (encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.) are useful in three ways:

  • They provide an overview of topics, which can help sort out the shape of the forest before you go after individual trees.
  • They often identify the core writers in a topic, the voices that are foundational or cutting-edge:  use any bibliographies you find to help develop your own.
  • They save time when you're looking for quick information about topics that you don't need to explore in depth.

Consult them at the beginning of your research, and when you run across unfamiliar concepts or topics.

A word about Wikipedia

Although Wikipedia articles can sometimes be interesting starting points and provide useful links to other sites, they are not as rigorously reviewed as articles in conventional encyclopedias.  So approach with caution, and always check the Talk tab - that will tell you the rating assigned to the article (be generalists, not scholars):

Talk button in Wikipedia

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