Skip to Main Content

ENG 201: Finding Background

Best Bets for Reference Sources

How to Maximize Reference Sources

Reference Examples

References sources, particularly specialized encyclopedias, offer many benefits. Consider the following tips as you review a reference source on your topic to reap all the benefits and make your researching even better.

Get definitions and background - Reference sources assume that you are new to a topic. Jargon and specialized terminology will be explained and contextualized, which you might not get in more advanced books and journal articles.

Get caught-up on a topic - Research is a conversation, and often it's been going on for years. Reference sources will provide a historical background and identify key developments to help you understand how we got to the current understandings and theories.

Identify key people and theories - Who are the most important people and ideas on your topic? Reference sources will help you identify them so you can explore them more deeply.

Find more sources - Reference sources will provide additional reading, usually in the form of references or background lists. These are a great next-step in your research process.

Google Smarter

Use advanced search options to refine your Google searches

You can utilize a number of advanced search features in Google to refine your results and get to better sources, faster. You enter site: into the search bar to limit to a specific site (such as or domain (such as .edu). Similarly, you can also search for a specific type of file results. As an example, entering file:.pdf will only return PDF results, no websites. Quotation marks will force Google to search for words as a phrase. A minus sign in front of a word will remove it from the results. Also, you limit date ranges by enter a start year, two dots, and an end year without any spaces. 

*Pro Tip: Some internet sources (cough Wikipedia cough) may not be appropriate to site in an academic paper, but they have have references, links, or additional readings that could be appropriate. Evaluation is extremely important on the internet, which can be a great place to start, but rarely where you will finish your research.