Getting background and some basic facts about your topic is a good way to start. This helps not only get some initial information but helps you formulate the boundaries of your research and key terms for your thesis statement. It can be a helpful guide to begin to narrow down your topic into a coherent and specific area.
Generally you don't cite encyclopedias in research papers, but they can:
Don't be afraid of the actual print, non-web, reference encyclopedias!