Show Me ©
Information Literacy Modules
  • What is a reference work?

    A reference work (print book, e-book or database) is organized to provide direct access to:

    • Definitions, synonyms
    • Basic factual information
    • Overview or guide to a subject
    • Maps
    • Statistics, charts, tables

  • How do I know it's a reference work?

    Does this word appear in the title?

    • Almanac
    • Atlas, Maps
    • Dictionary, Biographical Dictionary
    • Directory
    • Encyclopedia
    • Factbook
    • Gazetteer (a geographical dictionary)
    • Handbook
    • Quotations
    • Statistics, statistical
    • Thesaurus
    • Yearbook

    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?

    • Is the source assigned to a reference category?
    • Is a reference term (e.g., encyclopedia, handbook, yearbook, etc.) used in the title?
    • Are entries arranged alphabetically within the source?

  • 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:

    • Are contributors required to use their real names?
    • Can contributors earn additional responsibilities based on their work?
    • Are contributions fact checked and polished by an editor?

    If contributors are identified, their expertise and credentials should relate to your subject. A credible author or subject editor might:

    • Have a degree in this subject
    • Study or do research on this topic
    • Work in a related field

  • How do I evaluate an entry's objectivity?

    A reference work provides a balanced view of a topic.

    • Are all significant views on an issue explained in neutral language?
    • Is statistical data presented fully?
    • Do the conclusions follow logically from the analysis?

  • 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:

    • When was the entry published?
    • How current are the author's sources?

    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:

    • Media that tend to be current (e.g., news, blogs, web pages, magazines)
    • Reports (e.g., journals articles, polls and surveys, scientific or government reports)

    Always ask yourself:

    • Where did that number come from?
    • How was that number measured?

  • 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.

    • Search inside an author's published books to verify a quote.
    • In the case of a translated work, search more than one edition.

    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:

    • Is the language objective and unbiased?
    • Are all positions presented fairly and equally?
    • Do these sources represent a balanced view of the topic?
    • Are the sources recent enough for your topic?

    Use tools to judge the article's quality:

    • Does this article have a bronze star (a featured article)?
    • Is there a boxed notice at the top of the article discussing the article's quality?
    • Read what the editor-contributors say about the article on the "Talk" page.

    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:

    • Title
    • Volume number
    • Volume title
    • Edition
    • Editor(s)
    • Place of publication
    • Publisher
    • Latest copyright date

  • 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:

    • The title and copyright page, if you can see them
    • The article you are using
    • The database's citation

  • 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:

    • The entry you are using
    • The citation given by the database