In an article I am writing, I need to know the number of deaths in a certain war, in a period of time I am not very familiar with. The information is in Britannica, so I wanted to cite it, but a friend of mine told me that I should never cite an encyclopedia and that it is not a source.

I have the impression that a research article only gives one author's point of view on the question, the result of their own work, and similarly for a review article, I have no idea of its quality, if the methodology is correct, etc.

What should I do?


2 Answers 2


Citing an encyclopedia would be OK. As you say, it might give more authoritative information or the general view of things compared to a journal paper.

However, Britannica on the web now seems to have articles written in a more casual way, and does not seem as authoritative as when all articles were written by world experts. I could be wrong, but this is how it seems to me.

So I think you need to find a few more proper sources and compare the numbers. If they disagree, you can say that estimates of the number range from x to y.


If you use something from the literature, then cite it. To fail to do so is plagiarism. But even if you "know the era" well, you should find a definitive source and cite it.

You can cite multiple sources if needed, when they disagree, for example. But this doesn't seem like a "point of view" issue in this case. You might choose the one that provides the most background on the topic, possibly the encyclopedia.

The problem with encyclopedias is that they can go out of date, so make sure that your citation included a date of publication or, for online resources, the date you accessed it. A specific reference to an item in the wayback machine is also possible for online references in many cases.

Note, however, that encyclopedias (even wikipedia) often have their own references to the source material from which the article was drawn. You may be able to find and cite those directly.

  • 2
    I fail to understand how you can answer "if you don't give a reference that's plagiarism" to a question of the form "should I cite X or Y?"
    – user166518
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 9:23
  • I read the question as "Should I cite (X or Y) or not?" This makes the answer "Yes, you should cite (X or Y)" make sense.
    – JRN
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:31
  • @JRN, "Do you like tea or coffee?". "Yes, yes I do!" But the truth of the matter is that I did misread the topline question, focusing on the body. Old eyes - I miss a few things. (And, for the record, twelve ingredient cocoa is my culturally appropriate beverage of choice.)
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:36
  • @Victor, updated. Sorry for the confusion.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:44
  • I better understand why you were confused, anyway thanks for the update
    – user166518
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:49

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