Types of Reference Sources
sources are designed to present information in a wide variety of formats.
They come in the form of dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories, bibliographies,
indexes, catalogs, checklists, and atlases as well as electronic databases
and web resources and are designed to help navigate vast amounts of information.
They can assist in anything from supplying specific factual information
to providing citations for additional resources to consult. Reference
sources range from the very general to the very specific. Where do you
begin and what sources can be most useful? The most important thing to
remember in our increasingly electronic age is that it is absolutely necessary
to consult both print and electronic reference sources. Many invaluable
reference sources aren't available on the web or in electronic databases.
Activity -- Browsing the Reference Collection
It is best to become
familiar with a wide range of reference sources so that you can use
them as necessary throughout the research process. It may be useful
to go to the Reference Collection of your library and shelf read.
In other words, move from aisle to aisle and look at the titles of the
books on the shelf. You can begin by searching for the titles in the
List of Reference Sources to Consult. Pay
attention to how the titles are arranged and what titles are shelved
together. Finally, take some of the titles off the shelf and look inside.
Remember this guide only offers suggestions. You will encounter many
other reference sources that aren't part of this guide. It is up to
you to evaluate the reference sources you use for accuracy [see Evaluating
Activity -- Accuracy of Reference Source Entries
A reference source
is ultimately a secondary source and although the intention of a reference
source is to provide factual information about a subject, the information
contained within is actually an evaluation of the evidence that exists.
In most cases, those assigned to research the facts for an entry for
inclusion in a reference source are knowledgeable about their assigned
topic, but the information is still being presented by someone who wasn't
present at the event. Some reference books have many authors who write
the entries; others have only a few contributing editors who research
and write the entries. Reference sources then contain information based
on another's research, which in turn is an interpretation of the evidence.
Throughout the research
process, you will find that there are many unanswered questions about
the Battle of Bunker Hill. If there is little evidence left behind or
what does exist is conflicting, then it is difficult to make concrete
conclusions about the facts. In the reference sources you will consult,
you will find many variations of the actual numbers of deaths, casualties,
and prisoners at Bunker Hill. As a matter of fact you will also find
that there isn't a comprehensive "official list" of those who actually
fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. These are good examples to show
that history isn't black and white or that there isn't always a yes
or no answer to a question. We can make informed judgements, but often
there is no conclusive evidence to determine exactly what happened.
Pay close attention to the statistics given in other sources you encounter
during your research journey and be sure to stop and compare conflicting
numbers presented in the literature.