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Gathering Background Information: Search Online Reference Sources

Guide created for The Perch media project.

Getting Started

Using Wikipedia or Google is a good thing!

Your first instinct for quick information is to do an online search using Google or Wikipedia. That is a perfect way to get started! The only way to begin your research is to start seeking out information and freely available resources, like Google and Wikipedia is the easiest way to begin.

The Benefits of Wikipedia:

We all use Wikipedia, even professors and librarians. It's the largest online general reference resource and covers an impressive breadth of general information. 

Since Wikipedia was founded in 2001, it has greatly improved its standards for creating and editing pages. There are now content policies and guidelines in place.

Everyone must have a registered account to create and edit pages and follow Wikipedia's extensive content policies.

Volunteer editors and administrators are quick to remove or take down any misleading or incorrect content.

Wikipedia pages also contain solid references and footnotes citing where the content creator got their information, which makes it easy for people to find potential sources for a research topic.

Watch the video below to learn more about Wikipedia and how to use it effectively. 

Benefits of Using Library Reference Sources

Now that you've learned a little bit about the benefits of using Wikipedia, becoming familiar and using resources here at the UI Libraries should be your next step. At the Libraries, we have many reference tools and resources both in print and online. On this page you'll find several online resources, like Credo Reference and CQ Researcher

Just as there are benefits of using Wikipedia, there are benefits of using library resources.

First, using the resources and tools the library owns and pays for is a smart use of your money as college students, staff, and faculty. 

Second, using library tools helps you learn college level research skills and makes you a more savvy researcher, overall. Not to mention, using library databases gives you unlimited access to highly credible, peer-reviewed, scholarly literature you will not find on the internet. 

Credo Reference

Credo Reference is an online encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia, but one that is authoritative and provides quick and in-depth definitions, backgrounds and overviews on virtually any topic. Credo Reference also creates mind maps to visualize your topic in dynamic ways.

Mind maps are great tools to visualize your topic and its relation to other similar topics. Mind maps work to help narrow a big, general topic such as Halloween or broaden a specific topic, like the history of jack-o'-lanterns. They help "map" where your research might take you through discovering key concepts, alternative terminology, and related ideas. 

Try It Out: Conduct a search for jack-o'-lanterns using the Credo Reference search box below. The encyclopedic entry for jack-o'-lanterns appears, as well as a mind map on the right. Other topics such as Halloween are connected that when selected bring up the topic page and mind map on that specific topic.

Click on any term on the interactive mind map below to try it out.


Top 5 Online Reference Resources besides Wikipedia

Credo Reference Academic Core

Find dictionary and encyclopedic info on unfamiliar topics or to find quick references on a specific person, event, or date.

CQ Researcher

Written by experienced journalists, footnoted and professionally fact-checked. CQ Researcher provides in-depth coverage of the most important issues of the day.

Oxford Reference

Multi-part database of the online versions of seminal Oxford University Press texts. Each topical division contains the searchable version of the latest edition of published dictionaries and encyclopedias. 

Gale eBooks

Gale eBooks, AKA Gale Virtual Reference Library is a database of encyclopedias and specialized reference sources for multidisciplinary research.

SAGE eReference

An online collection of reference books covering the social sciences and education, including African American Studies, Aging & Gerontology, Anthropology, Communication and Media Studies, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Economics, Education, Gender & Sexuality Studies, History, Politics, Psychology, Social Issues, Social Work & Social Policy, and Sociology.

Search Reference Sources

Search some of the Libraries' Reference Resources

Some topics will work better than others in these resources.


CQ researcher