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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

FSEM 100F1: Hardboiled: American Detective Fiction: Home


Cover of a pulp detective magazine
Image credit: Jim Barker on
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Welcome to the guide for FSEM 100F1. To navigate this guide, please use the tabs at the top of the page.

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The purpose of encyclopedias (such as Wikipedia)

Why do encyclopedias matter?

Isn't it true that you can't cite an encyclopedia in a research paper?

What's the point of a source you can't cite?

It's true that you shouldn't cite an encyclopedia in a research paper, but that's not what encyclopedias are for. Encyclopedias are for background information -- information that you need in order to start your research. Whatever your research topic might be, a good encyclopedia article can give you all of the following:

  • An overview of the topic.
    • This tells you what points you need to cover, and what you might want to focus on.
  • The names of people, places, and things related to the topic.
    • This gives you words and phrases that you can search on.
  • A list of references for further research.
    • This gives you sources you can read, and possibly cite.

That's why encyclopedias are important, and why Wikipedia is important. When you write a Wikipedia article, you're jumpstarting other people's research, all around the world.

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Peter Catlin