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Dr. Nabours - History Courses

Encyclopedic Sources

Encyclopedias are often called tertiary sources. They compile information from trusted experts and produce short entries on each item. Tertiary sources provide you with basic information that you might need to proceed with your project. They give you an overview of your topic and they can help you narrow your research question. They often point you towards the secondary and primary sources you need for research projects.

Below are some examples of encyclopedias in SOWELA's library databases, or click here for a full list of encyclopedic databases.

Using Wikipedia

Everything has a Wikipedia page, including Wikipedia themselves. This is how Wikipedia describes themselves:

Wikipedia is a free-content online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteers, collectively known as Wikipedians, through open collaboration and using a wiki-based editing system called MediaWiki. Wikipedia is the largest and most-read reference work in history, and has consistently been one of the 10 most popular websites.

For this assignment, you will evaluate the usefulness and reliability of the Wikipedia page and use the information found there to further evaluate your other sources. Wikipedia can also be a good tool for locating more relevant sources, since articles are now required to include a reference sections, and many entries also include a further reading section. 

While there have been issues with Wikipedia in the past, the reliability of Wikipedia had tremendously improved over time. A 2005 study found that Wikipedia was almost as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia is run by a community of users that keep each other in check and work to maintain the quality of information Wikipedia provides. There are administrators who can lock pages, respond to vandalism, and delete whole pages that have bad information.

Wikipedia also has a set of content policies that guide the writing and editing of pages:

  1. Neutral point of view – All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly, proportionately and without bias.
  2. Verifiability – Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source. In Wikipedia, verifiability means that people reading and editing the encyclopedia can check that information comes from a reliable source.
  3. No original research – Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.
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