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Michigan State University

Criminal Justice Resources: Background Information

Why should I start my research with reference books?

Use reference materials to find background information.  Reference books can help you:Students working at computers in library

  • Explore a topic: find out what has been said about this subject, trends, issues, etc.
  • Identify and define unfamiliar terms or people in your reading
  • Find references to other books and articles on the subject
  • Find specific keywords to use in online searches

Need some more background information about that new concept you learned in class today?  Writing a paper on a topic that's new to you?  Not sure what topic to choose for your paper?  Answer yes to any of these questions, and a subject-specific encyclopedia is the thing for you.

Library encyclopedias and handbooks aren't searchable or freely available on the web, but you can still access many of them online by logging in with your MSU ID...and feel confident using them as a bona-fide scholarly resource that is written by an expert in the field and reviewed for accuracy!

Wikipedia is a common starting point for many people researching a new topic, but unlike scholarly subject-specific encyclopedias, most professors will not allow you to cite Wikipedia in your bibliography.  View this video tutorial, Wikipedia: Beneath the Surface, from North Carolina State University Libraries for more information about how Wikipedia works and its information quality.

Reference Databases

Reference Databases

The library subscribes to a number of online databases that bring together encyclopedias and handbooks from a publisher in one convenient and searchable website.

Michigan State University