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Fire Science: Reference Sources

What Is a Reference Source?

A reference source is a work used for looking up specific information.

Purpose: Reference works are typically used to look up specific information, and are generally not read from cover to cover like a novel.

Scope: Reference works usually present broad information overviews and/or quick summaries with limited detailed analysis. Some reference books cover broad topics, such as a dictionary of English language, while others cover more focused topics, such as a dictionary of transportation logistics terminology.

Format: Reference works are available in print, media, and electronic format.

Organization: Reference works are arranged in a specific order (such as alphabetical, chronological, topical, etc.) and/or provide tools (indices, hyperlinks, cross-references, etc.) to help the user find information efficiently.

Types of Reference Sources

PLEASE NOTE: To access some of the example resources listed below, enter your My NWACC Connection username and password if prompted.

Almanac: A compilation of statistics and/or specific facts. Examples: Information Please Almanac (open website); Vietnam War Almanac (print book)

Atlas: A collection of maps, illustrations, place names, and/or other information presented geographically or spatially. Examples: Arkansas: An Illustrated Atlas (print book); The Atlas of Human Migration (print book)

Bibliography: A collection of information sources about a specific topic(s) or by a specific author(s). Example: The Pulitzer Prizes: Past Winners and Finalists by Category (open website)

Biographical Dictionary: A collection of short entries providing information about peoples' lives and/or accomplishments. Example: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (print book)

Chronology: A list or description of events organized by date of occurrence. Example: The Hutchinson Chronology of World History (subscription ebook)

Concordance: An alphabetical list of phrases or keywords from another work or set of works, often with descriptive or explanatory commentary. Example: Concordance to the Letters of Emily Dickinson (subscription ebook)

Dictionary: An alphabetical list of words or phrases with definitions, often including information about pronunciation, origin, usage, synonyms, or antonyms. Examples: The Visual Dictionary of Photography (print book); The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology (print book); Oxford English Dictionary (subscription database); Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (subscription database)

Directory: A compilation of names of people, organizations, institutions, or businesses with contact, location, and/or other descriptive or evaluative information. Examples: Better Business Bureau (open website)

Encyclopedia: A general or subject-specific collection of brief articles about topics presented as summaries of factual information. Examples: Britannica Online Encyclopedia (subscription database); Encyclopedia of Social Media and Politics​ (subscription ebook)

Field Guide:  A resource used to identify wildlife or other objects. Example: Ozark Wildflowers (print book); Rocks & Fossils: A Visual Guide (print book)

Gazetteer: An alphabetical list of geographic locations without maps. Example: Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary (subscription ebook)

Guidebook: A descriptive work about a specific geographic area(s), typically created for travelers or newcomers. Example: Unforgettable Walks to Take Before You Die (print book)

Handbook: A brief overview of a topic. Examples: The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers (print book); Mathematics and Disabilities Handbook: A Guide for Students with LD, ADHD, TBI and Wounded Warriors (print book)

Index: An alphabetical list of keywords, people, places, resources, events, etc. that often includes information for finding sources or entries within a work or collection of works. Example: Television Program Master Index : Access to Critical and Historical Information on 2,273 Shows in Books, Dissertations and Journal Articles (ebook)

Manual: A guide that explains how to use an object(s), how to complete a task(s), or how an organization operates. Examples: Arkansas Criminal and Traffic Law Manual (print book); The Green Roof Manual: A Professional Guide to Design, Installation, and Maintenance (print book)

Style Manual: A guide that provides the rules and conventions for writing, formatting, or publishing for a particular publisher or within a particular discipline. Examples: The Chicago Manual of Style (print book); MLA Handbook (print book); Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association [APA] (print book); American Sociological Association [ASA] Style Guide (print book)

Thesaurus: An alphabetical list of words and terms with synonyms. Examples: Oxford Thesaurus of English (print book)

Yearbook: A summary of events from one year; may be restricted topically and/or geographically. Example: Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook, 2015 (ebook).

Reference Databases

The following Library subscription databases contain reference materials. This is an incomplete list; see also our full list of research databases.

Use your MyNWACC Connection username and password for off-campus access.


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