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Encyclopedias Online: Use Subject Encyclopedias to Understand Your Topic: Getting Started

Use our extensive collection of online encyclopedias to understand the context and background for your research using articles written by scholars and experts. Encyclopedias are listed by the breadth and depth of subject coverage.

Why Use Subject Encyclopedias?

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.


Topic Discovery: Reference encyclopedias are an excellent source of research paper topics on a given subject.
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.

Find Subject Encyclopedias on Your Topic

Use this guide. Choose a broad subject area to begin.


Browse the Dictionaries and Encyclopedias section of Databases.
Using the Advanced Search in Articles & Full Text (aka Summon). Check the Reference box in the Content Type category; then enter your search terms.
Using the Advanced Search in our Catalog, enter (encyclopedia dictionary) in any in Title AND your topic in All Fields.
Ask a reference librarian to suggest appropriate titles.
Browse the bookshelves in the Olin Reference Collection.
Find one of our online Subject Guides on your topic and go to the Encyclopedias & Dictionaries section of the guide.
Example: Religion: A Research Guide / Encyclopedias & Dictionaries.

Use Permissions

If you wish to use or adapt any or all of the content of this Guide go to https://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/services/research/guides/use to review our use permissions and our Creative Commons license.

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