When writing a paper, when I identify some area I'm uncertain of, I try to track down a good source in JSTOR, the library, etc. I am in a situation where I found there is no academic source available on the subject. Scholars studying the topic within the confines of a specific territory, I could find none presenting the information globally.

To be really specific about the case, I need info on the territories a European nation acquired globally, changes to that territory over time. All sources I uncovered were territory-specific, and it would seem silly to cite 10 separate books for this general information.

So that leaves me citing the Encyclopedia in about 10 places in the article, which I normally stay away from except for building background knowledge. Is that something that will be a problem to publishers if I have citations to something like Encyclopedia Britannica?

  • Things that I've seen cited in research papers include encyclopedias, preprints, this website, Reddit and 4chan. Certainly there is not a blanket "citing non-research-paper things gets you rejected" rule. Jan 9, 2021 at 18:54

2 Answers 2



If other secondary sources like review articles are acceptable, then an encyclopedia is acceptable.

If the information is a well-documented, undisputed territorial boundary, then secondary sources should be adequate.

Personally, I have never heard of a paper being rejected for citing the wrong type of source in my field of research. If the source is wrong or irrelevant, that could be a problem, but type of source does not matter. In physics, non-peer reviewed sources like ArXiv can be cited, and these are less reliable than encyclopedias.


The answer depends on the nature of the information and the field - context you haven't provided and can't really on this site.

In general, information in the Encyclopedia Brittanica should count as reasonably reliable general information. You must cite it if you quote directly, and probably should in any case at all questionable. (You need not for, say, the dates of the Civil War.)

That said, relying heavily on that source for current (technical) information may well be a reason for an editor or referee to reject your manuscript.

  • 2
    "That said, relying heavily on that source for current (technical) information may well be a reason for an editor or referee to reject your manuscript." - Why? Certainly not more than relying on outdated articles in journals.
    – user151413
    Jan 8, 2021 at 21:32
  • 1
    Can you give an example of a type of information or field where this would get a rejection I do not believe such a thing exists. Jan 9, 2021 at 1:29
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I have no direct knowledge of this. I do know that if I were to referee a (math) paper that quoted wikipedia or the Brittanica for a theorem I would ask for a reference in a refereed publication. Jan 9, 2021 at 2:56
  • Then I think you think the answer is no. Please edit. Revisions are not rejections. Despite the tagline "The Free Encyclopedia" it is clear the question is not asking about Wikipedia. Jan 9, 2021 at 4:24

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