Reference Works generally refer to handbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. They provide a broad overview and background information of a topic. They help you understand the key issues, history, and sometimes, latest debates on a topic without going through dozens of books, journal articles, and other materials. They can also help you develop a mind map on a topic and learn keywords and terminologies for further research.
Where to Find Reference Works
Besides Wikipedia, a free source, you can also explore several reference work databases subscribed by the library. These databases provide short articles from authoritative reference works and allow you to search and refine by subjects or topics.