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Research 101: Books

Information on the research process.

Reference Books

Reference books offer concise and authoritative information on a topic. They are often compilations from many contributors. Due to a lengthy publication process the information in reference books is less current than that in periodicals (newspapers, magazines, journals) or even non-reference books.

Reference books include:

  • Dictionaries
  • General Encyclopedias
  • Subject Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks
  • Chronologies
  • Atlases

Examples of Reference Books


Because of the time it takes to publish, books usually contain more dated information than will be found in periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and journals).

Books are good sources for:

  • Background information
  • An overview of a topic
  • Ideas on how to break down or narrow a broad topic
  • In-depth analysis
  • Comprehensive treatment of topic
  • Specific information on a topic (consult the table of contents or index to find specific information)

Scholarly Books

Scholarly sources take an academic approach to a subject; their purpose is usually to inform and they are intended for an educated audience.

Some books are more scholarly than others. For example, a ghost-written autobiography of a current celebrity is less scholarly than a carefully researched and annotated biography of a historical figure.  

At times instructors or employers may stress the use of scholarly sources for your research project. You may decide to seek out scholarly sources for a complex or in-depth research project or for a project where you already know a lot about the topic.

The following elements indicate a scholarly orientation for a book:

  • Contains a bibliography of sources used to write the book
  • Written by an author or organization with expertise in the field
  • Written for an educated audience
  • Written to inform and to add to the accumulated knowledge in a field
  • Offers considered analysis of the topic
  • Published by a scholarly press (a university press or academic organization)

Scholarly Presses

Consult the following for more information on scholarly presses or publishers.

About AUPresses on the Association of University Presses Web site

Our Members on the Association of University Presses Web site

Academic Book Publishers from



The experience of using an ebook is different than using a print book. We access an ebook through a computer or other electronic device, while print books are physical objects. We may take electronic notes with an ebook versus using a highlighter in a print book.

These differences in access have not significantly changed the content and publication process of books. As far as information evaluation the different formats of books—electronic and print—share the same advantages and disadvantages. As the publishing business continues to change we may see ebooks evolve into a distinct source type, but, for now, we can apply the information about books and reference books to electronic books and electronic reference books.

Consult the research guide Ebooks at Briggs Library  for more information on ebooks.

Examples of EBooks

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