Background Information

The importance of reference materials

Once you have analysed the question, it may be helpful to spend a little time to consult appropriate reference materials.

These can provide an overview of your topic, definitions of key terms and jargon, summaries of the basic ideas, and even subject-specific lists of references about your topic.

Types of reference materials

Different types of reference materials include:


Dictionaries can be general or subject-based (Blackwell's Dictionary of Nursing). Use dictionaries, such as the Macquarie Dictionary, to define unfamiliar terms. 


A thesaurus is a list of words with similar meanings (synonyms) and words with opposite meanings (antonyms). Thesauri will help you find alternative keywords and phrases for the important words identified during the process of analysing your assignment topic. There are general thesauri (Roget's Thesaurus) and subject-oriented ones (Legal Thesaurus).


Encyclopedias can also be general (Encyclopedia Britannica) or specialised (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology). They generally contain definitions, descriptions, statistics, diagrams, maps, and sometimes detailed essays and comprehensive bibliographies

Other reference materials

The list of other sorts of reference materials is almost endless. These include bibliographies, biographies, statistical sources, atlases, and yearbooks. More information is available from eSKILLS Plus.

Finding reference material

The easiest ways to find relevant reference material are to:

  • Look through the Reference collection in the Law Library or on Level 2 of Dixson Library. Reference items must be read inside the library.
  • Search for relevant titles in the e-reference packages found on the Encyclopedias and Dictionaries page.
  • Ask at the Service Desk at Dixson Library or the Law Library for information on useful reference sources.
  • Make an enquiry using the online Ask a Librarian form.
  • Perform a keyword search in the Library Catalogue, using the name of your topic (eg economics) and a keyword such as encyclopedia or dictionary.

Other considerations