HCCS Libraries

Using Reference Materials

What are reference tools?

Reference Section

A reference tool is a book that can be used by itself as a source of information without use of a second source of information. (Although a reference tool may refer or lead to another source of information, that is not its main purpose.)

Reference tools usually include access components such as indexes that lead to information elsewhere in the tool itself, rather than to other sources of information. In many cases, reference tools cannot be used effectively without using access points included in the reference tool. It is therefore important to look for indexes and other access keys in reference tools.

The library's reference collection contains many books that will be useful in the course of your library research project. The librarians can help you identify and use the most useful of these reference tools.

You will be more effective if you are familair with some important kinds of reference tools.

What are the main kinds of reference tools?

The most important categories of reference tools include:

Dictionaries, such as the American Heritage Dictionary.

One way to begin your research is to focus on key words--the important words used in discussions of your question. As you look for answers to your research question, you will need to be familiar with the key words associated it. You can explore the meanings of key words by using dictionaries.

Encyclopedias, such as the World Book Encyclopedia.

One of the best places to find an overview of a question or topic is an encyclopedia.

Biographical Sources, such as the Great Lives from History.

Biographical sources are another way to approach a question. These tools provide background details and important insights into the activities of the important individuals involved in a question.

Almanacs, such as the World Almanac.

Almanacs offer important factual information that can improve your understanding of a question.

Statistics Sources, such as the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

Statistics sources also offer important factual information that can support an argument.

Specialized Encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice.

Specialized encyclopedias go into greater depth on more specific questions than regular encyclopedias.

Chronologies, such as the Timetables of History.

Chronologies can help you to place your question in time, as it relates to other events.

Atlases, such as the Times Atlas of the World.

Atlases can help you to place your research in space.

Handbooks, such as the Handbook of American Women's History.

Handbooks, as their name suggests, can be particularly handy at various times during your research. There are many kinds of handbooks.

Directories, such as the Encyclopedia of Associations.

Directories can provide the telephone numbers and addresses of people with significant insight into your research question.

Compilations, such as the New Moulton's Library of Literary Criticism.

Compilations of materials related by subject or type are the convenience stores of the reference collection. They collect in one place many of the significant documents or texts related to a research question of group of questions, all for the researcher's convenience.

Reference tools are an excellent first stop for your research project. They are also vital throughout the project. Use them often!