1. For most of my career I have had to learn about subjects about which I have known little, and in general I have chosen research projects where my till-then intellectual assets are inadequate. I had to find my way quickly and reliably.
2. There was once a time when multivolume encyclopedias were available and used. These were in printed books, each volume large and formidable. I recall using the Encyclopedia of Social Science in the late 1960s, for example. In my home I have the 1910-1926 or so Eleventh/Thirteenth Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, with its lengthy authoritative articles, with lots about WWI built into the 13th supplementary volumes.
By the way they are still available
3. When I was in school and college we were discouraged from using only the encyclopedia for our research, since they wanted us to look more widely. However, for many purposes that is where we started. If we went to the public library, that was surely the case. (We did not have such an encyclopedia in our home, despite the best efforts of door to door salesmen.) In university, we would be encouraged to go to the librarian for assistance and the card catalog. For some reason, when I was in high school, I went to the medical library of some organization in Brooklyn, where I came from. And of course the main branch of the public library was rich with goodies.
4. Nowadays, students think INTERNET, GOOGLE, and perhaps TERM PAPER SERVICE OR FRATERNITY FILE CABINET. I would not recommend the latter alternatives, you will be found out readily by Turnitin, and may well be sent away from your college. There are sites that provide solutions to homework problems, but your instructor is likely to know of them. If you collaborate, write up your work in your own terms. I have seen letters of reference for tenure for your professors, where several letters share paragraphs--meaning that the whole dossier of information is considered unreliable. [I have also seen professors make spectacular but misleading claims about the number of citations to their work. It does not work, since someone is bound to check.]
5. HOWEVER... For preliminary work, to get a feel for a subject, you want to immediately turn to Wikipedia, to the online Encyclopedia Britannica, Oxford English Dictionary, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Encyclopedia of Social Science, etc. No, they are not usually the places you want to refer to in your papers, and in some fields you must go to archives. Moreover, what you are expected to do is to consult authoritative scholarly articles and books, perhaps found through Google Scholar etc. In general, you are most likely to find reliable sources if they are published in peer reviewed journals or by university presses. Your university spends a good fraction of its library budget making these diverse sources available to you online, including many specialized journals.
6. If you are in a field that is quite foreign to you, ask your teachers for some good places to start, some standard books or articles. Librarians may well be able to help. Go to a relevant library, and given some research in the card catalog, you will surely find some call numbers repeating and you might spend time scanning the shelves to see what is out there.
7. SAY YOUR ARE PRESSED FOR TIME, LAZY, DON'T CARE, ... Don't plagiarize. Nowadays, with Turnitin, you are likely to be caught and penalized heavily. Don't use a term paper service, since again it is likely the same paper or parts of it were submitted elsewhere and Turnitin will find it. Don't copy passages without quotation marks and references--mosaic plagiarism. Again Turnitin will find it.
[One person who gave me trouble about my concern about plagiarism turns out to have some mosaic plagiarism in their doctoral dissertation. It's not serious, but it should not be there. Students who tell me "I am not a plagiarist. I don't cheat." seem likely to be plagiarists, although they may not realize that is what they are doing. Other students seem to know the rules, precisely, and would never get in such trouble. Students who complain about their grades should have their work checked for plagiarism, since somehow they have gotten away with such in the past, received good grades, and do not realize they are in trouble. I was accused of retaliating against such students since they complained about their grades, but in fact I was protecting them from being kicked out of the university since the foundation for their previous strong grades may well have been sand. Of course, the complaint about retaliation was made by another plagiarist. It's awful to watch people trip over themselves.
[By the way, your reputation follows you. Mentioning your name will elicit lines like, "Don't ever talk to them." or "Let me tell you about what they pulled on me." If you have been a plagiarist, someone is going to tell someone else, and it will spread. If you have been unreliable, made false accusations, etc etc, someone is going to tell someone and it will spread. Email makes it even worse. The best you can do is to not repeat your mistakes. No one is trying to hurt you. But as we can see in the newspapers, secrecy and confidentiality are terms of art meaning that someone is bound to tell someone else, someone is bound to leave an email trail, someone is bound to leak the information. Not always, but almost always.]
SPEND AN HOUR OR TWO READING, CHECKING THINGS OUT ON THE INTERNET, AND THEN WRITE IN YOUR OWN WORDS. LIST SOURCES YOU HAVE USED, BUT NOT THOSE YOU HAVE NOT USED. YOUR GRADE MAY NOT BE TERRIFIC, BUT AT LEAST YOU WON'T BE KICKED OUT OF YOUR DREAM UNIVERSITY.