What is a reference work?
A reference work (print book, e-book or database) is organized to provide direct access to:
How do I know it's a reference work?
Does this word appear in the title?
Tip: A textbook is usually cited as a book even though you use it for reference.
What is a yearbook, a factbook, or an almanac?
Reference sources that compile facts and statistics, often annually, may be called a yearbook, factbook or almanac.
What is a handbook?
A handbook is a reference manual about a subject.
How do I recognize a reference work in a database?
How do I evaluate contributors to a reference source?
A reference source is usually compiled by many people. Look for procedures that encourage contributors to produce quality work:
If contributors are identified, their expertise and credentials should relate to your subject. A credible author or subject editor might:
How do I evaluate an entry's objectivity?
A reference work provides a balanced view of a topic.
How do I evaluate the accuracy of data?
Statistics (e.g., number of galaxies in the universe, number of unemployed workers in a country) change over time. If current information is important to understanding your topic, check the following:
Search key words (e.g., unemployed Iran) excluding a specific number in order to avoid limiting results to that number (called "confirmation bias").
Corroborate using different types of sources, especially:
Always ask yourself:
How do I fact-check a quote?
Quotes are typically hard to verify. A quotation database may provide the author but not the source of a quote. The quote may be incorrectly worded or attributed to the wrong person.
Tip: Search Quote Investigator (opens in new window) to see if your quote has been traced.
How do I evaluate a Wikipedia entry?
Wikipedia's goal is to compile a free encyclopedia of all human knowledge written from a neutral point of view:
Use tools to judge the article's quality:
For other suggestions on how to evaluate Wikipedia, see the Knowledge Base article "How do I evaluate Wikipedia?"
How do I cite a reference book?
Use the title page first, and then the copyright page (not the cover or jacket), to find:
How do I cite an article in a reference e-book?
A reference e-book is a static copy of a print book. Gather the facts of publication from:
How do I cite a reference database?
A reference database is continually being revised and updated, unlike a static reference e-book. Gather citation elements from: