Research Help: Find Reference Sources
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What is a reference source?
Reference sources usually contain short, factual information. They can be used to provide background information on an unfamiliar topic or to find a specific fact to support an argument. There are many different types and formats of reference sources available. Examples of reference sources include the Encyclopædia Britannica (general encyclopedia), Statistical Abstract of the United States (statistical compendium), and the American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature (bibliographical handbook). Many reference sources have online counterparts, such as the Britannica Online or the Oxford English Dictionary.
How do I find a reference source?
Reference books and other sources in the library
To find reference books and other sources in the Washington University Libraries, use the library catalog. Use keyword searching when you are unsure of the exact title, author, or Library of Congress subject heading. Use subject searching when you are sure of the exact Library of Congress subject heading for a more focused search. The Limit/Sort button in the library catalog has an option to limit your search to titles that are in the Olin Library Reference collection. Use this feature judiciously, since it will exclude reference books in the other campus libraries. Another valuable tool for identifying standard reference books is the Guide to Reference Books. For more help in searching for reference books, or for recommendations of reference books, ask for assistance at the Olin Library Reference Desk or from your subject librarian.
Reference sources on the Internet
There are many reference sources available on the Internet. Some are better than others. For a list of general reference sources selected by librarians at Washington University, see the Reference Sources page. For more subject-specific reference sources selected by Washington University librarians, see the Resources by Subject pages. If you would like to explore other web sites, refer to the Find Web Sites page. Just remember to evaluate your sources!
What if I am having trouble finding a good reference source?
Find reference sources | Obtain materials not at WUStL | Evaluate sources | Cite sources