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Ways of Approaching Reference Collections: Using Reference Collections Effectively

A outline to deepen your understanding subject reference collections and learning to use them more effectively.

Uses of Subject Encyclopedias

Topic Discovery: Reference encyclopedias are an excellent source of research paper topics on a given subject.
Context / Background and Summary Information: Subject encyclopedias contain concise essays on specific topics that may be hard to find elsewhere or that screen massive quantities of publications (i.e., Shakespeare) and summarize the current thinking, and present the most useful titles. Historical and topical survey articles set a clear and understandable context for further research work. Useful for undergraduates or for specialists looking for authoritative information outside their own discipline.
Access to "Best Titles" and More Sources: Scholarly encyclopedia article authors select and cite books and articles useful for further reading and research on a topic.
Generating Synonyms: Article titles, article essays, and index entries are a good source of synonyms for subject searching and of alternative forms of proper names (wars, persons, geography) that may produce more relevant search results than your initial search word choices.
Teaching/Learning Tools: Article bibliographies provide clear and varied citation examples useful for learning how to accurately read and use citations.

Ways of Thinking about Subject Reference in Psychology

By Subdiscipline
Child - Adolescent - Adult
Experimental Educational
Social Clinical Physiological/


By Mental Function
      Intelligence               Memory             Learning            Sleep         Phobias


By Type of Training [main LC Classification]
Typical degrees granted
Psychology or Counseling Psychology

PhD or MS

MD + additional training

any post-baccalaureate degree + specialized training
Social Work [HV]

By Type of Encyclopedia or Dictionary

Example: Psychology.
Multi-disciplinary Encyclopedias: International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. (Elsevier, online and Olin Reference, 26 volumes)
Encyclopedias of the Discipline: Encyclopedia of Psychology. (Oxford/APA, Olin Reference, 8 volumes)
Sub-disciplinary Encyclopedias: Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. (Maxwell, Olin Reference)
Dictionaries of Terminology: Dictionary of Psychology. (Oxford, Olin Reference and online)
Dictionaries of Big Ideas: Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology. (Greenwood, Olin Reference)
Biographical Dictionaries: Biographical Dictionary of Psychology. (Routledge, Olin Reference) [also ANB, DNB]


Use Research Guides and Online Collections of Reference Titles

Online Subject Guides: Psychology: A Research Guide. - List of all guides.
Library Gateway: Database Names browse. [under the Social Sciences section, click Psychology]
Encyclopedias Online: Use Subject Encyclopedias to Understand Your Topic.
Reference Bibliography: Guide to Reference. (ALA)
Online Reference Collections: Oxford Reference.
Searchable Database of Encyclopedias: Reference Universe.


Reference Help

Michael Engle
106 Olin Library
(607) 255-1884
Cornell University Library

Subject Selector for
Reference; Anglo-American News