Skip to Main Content

ENG 275: Women's Literature (Russo-Loudoun)

Direct comments to Michael English,

How to Use Reference Books

Gathering background information from sources such as encyclopedias is an important first step in your research process. In this step, your goal is to learn more about your topic, including obtaining biographical information if applicable, and definitions and keywords.

Background sources such as encyclopedias and biographical sources are not typically the types of sources you will cite in a research paper: they are only used for learning more about your topic to better inform your research strategy

Getting Started - Resources for Background Information

Below are some key databases for identifying background information in literature. Some of these databases also contain critical essays.


Encyclopedia Search Tips


Search using broad terms since encyclopedia articles focus on basic, general information about a topic.

  • Yes:  "Toni Morison"
  • Yes: Symbolism
  • No:  How does Toni Morrison use color as a symbol in Beloved?

Use quotation marks ( "  " ) around phrases (two or more words) as above in the first example. This tells the database to look for that exact phrase.