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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

English: Getting Started

A research guide to finding books, articles, and other resources in English and literature

On This Page: Reference

The best way to start a research project is by reading overviews of your topic. An overview is a text that summarizes the basic facts about your topic (Encyclopedias, textbooks, study guides).

An overview is just a starting point. Don't cite overviews--they don't provide any original information, only a condensed summary of what other people have said about the topic. Instead, read the overview and write down clues that you could search for in Quest or the library databases, to find sources that you can cite. You might find important names of people, places, and things, as well as other keywords or sources to search for.

reference book is a book that contains overviews of many topics. Encyclopedias are the most common type of reference book. You can find reference books in the Reference section, which is on the first floor of Simpson Library.

This page has great examples of reference books for the following:

Literary Periods and Movements     ♦     General English     ♦     Literature by Region and Nationality     ♦     Literary Subjects and Genres     ♦     Literary Theory and Critics

Literary Terms, Themes, Allusions, and Symbols    ♦     English Language and Grammar     ♦     Poetry     ♦     Writers

What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia logo

Is it okay to use Wikipedia for a college research project?

Yes, but only as a starting point.

Wikipedia is an excellent starting point. You should use Wikipedia! Read Wikipedia articles, and write down clues that you find. Follow the citations at the bottom of Wikipedia articles. Use these clues to find sources you can cite.

Don't cite Wikipedia.

Don't assume that everything you read in Wikipedia is true. Treat Wikipedia as a collection of valuable rumors. Follow up on each rumor, using trustworthy sources, to see whether the rumor is true.

Literary Periods and Movements

Literature by Region and Nationality





Latin America

Middle East

Post-Colonial (various countries)

United Kingdom

United States (general)

United States -- American Indian literature

United States -- Black literature

United States -- Hispanic literature

United States -- Multiethnic literature

United States -- Southern literature

Literary Theory and Critics

English Language and Grammar

General Reference Books

Literary Subjects and Genres

Literary Terms, Themes, Allusions, and Symbols