Reference sources are a great place to start your research when you need to gather initial information about a topic or get a rough overview of a subject so you can decide what areas to research further. Reference books and online tools are also excellent for looking up a quick fact, definition, or date, and they will often direct you to more sources.
If none of the recommended resources are quite what you're looking for, try a search in the library catalog for the subject you're researching and "reference", "handbook", "guide", or "companion" to see what reference materials we might have on the subject. Remember that you can always reach out to a librarian for help if your search doesn't turn up promising results!
We've collected a diverse set of reference sources in this guide, and it can be hard to know what type of resource to start with. Use the following suggestions to help guide you, and check out the sub-pages after this page for recommendations for each of the resource types outlined below!
When you are just starting out...
Consult a dictionary or encyclopedia as one of the first steps in your research process. They can provide you with basic background so you can begin to formulate a research question and get a better sense of how your topic fits into a broader context. If you are researching an individual, biographical dictionaries are another great place to start.
When you are collecting sources...
Once you have gathered some basic background information, consulting a research guide, handbook, or bibliography can help you figure out what has been written about your topic and which major sources you'll need to read next.
You may want to consult histories and monographs on the subject you're researching or start looking for academic articles. However you choose to structure your research, circling back to the types of reference sources discussed on this page can help ensure you are building a thorough and comprehensive list of sources about your research topic.
Navigating reference tools can be challenging, luckily there are resources to help you identify and locate the reference sources you need. The resources highlighted below are excellent tools for finding music reference works.