Encyclopedia Britannica doesn't have references for its articles, even though some contain bibliographies for general reading at the end. This may be to save space and for a smoother reading experience, but isn't this against the grain of academic conduct, since we can't easily verify the articles' assertions or pursue primary sources? Why is this allowed and accepted?

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    Many general textbooks don't have references, just a bibliography at the end of a section. Not everything is a journal article, nor should everything be a journal article.
    – Jon Custer
    May 9, 2017 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


Why is this allowed and accepted?

In short, because Encyclopædia Britannica is independently published and can make its own rules. If they want to publish an encyclopedia with no references, they're free to do so. And there's clearly demand for it, since it's one of the most popular and respected encyclopedias in the world.

Since an encyclopedia is a tertiary source, there would indeed be a great deal of merit in citing its assertions, a model used by other encyclopedias (like Wikipedia). But its general audience probably care little and the publishers don't see it as worth the effort of obtaining, formatting, and maintaining reference lists that very few readers will ever use.

Britannica makes a big deal of its contributors' impressive credentials, and expects you to trust their word as experts in their fields. Since the majority of the encyclopedia's content is likely to be uncontroversial common knowledge within the relevant field—and a great deal of the knowledge therein likely predates the formal system of publication and dissemination of research in an easily citeable format—they think that's enough.

If you disagree (which is an entirely reasonable stance), read a different encyclopedia, or start your own.

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    As a side comment, I think many people decided not to read Encyclopedia Britannica because it is now out of print, although it is still available online. May 9, 2017 at 13:43
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    Good answer. And before the internet, the cost of adding references would have been considerable. Given the condensed nature of encyclopedia articles, I wouldn't be surprised if this added 20% or more content. Today it would make little sense to produce an encyclopedia without references, given cheap content delivery on the internet.
    – user24098
    May 9, 2017 at 20:30

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