If you are like a lot of people, you start your research with Wikipedia, or you use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, and end up at Wikipedia. Encyclopedias like Wikipedia are useful places to start when you don’t know that much about your topic. They can offer a concise introduction and give you ideas for more specific aspects of an issue, as well as suggestions for important books and articles for further reading.
Issues with Wikipedia
Wikipedia is easy to access and can offer very interesting information, not to mention that it is huge, with over 1 million entries in English. But there’s one major issue with Wikipedia – anyone can write or change an entry. You never know who wrote it, and it’s a "moving target," meaning that the content is constantly changing.
Ideally, because each entry can be modified, the “wisdom of the crowd” improves the accuracy of the information. But in practice, writing by committee doesn’t lend itself to elegant prose, and the entries are better for fact-based information than for holistic, contextual information that academic experts can give you. And you have no idea of the authority of the authors.
Background Info for Public Policy Issues
While it is not a scholarly encyclopedia, CQ Researcher is an excellent resource for introductory information on public policy issues.
Hints for Searching CQ Researcher
Think of CQ Researcher as being similar to a good Wikipedia entry. It will offer a general overview of the political issue, while trying to maintain a balanced point of view. There will be an extensive bibliography and suggested readings at the bottom.
Background Info for Academic Issues
Examples of Major Scholarly Encyclopedias
Here are just a few of the major, multi-volume scholarly, subject encyclopedias we have. Talk to a reference librarian for suggestions pertinent to your issue.