Using Encyclopedia Articles and Dictionaries to Understand a Topic
Find the Context and Background Information
After you identify your research topic and some keywords that describe it, find and read articles in subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks. These articles will help you understand the context (historical, cultural, disciplinary) of your topic. They are the foundation supporting further research. The most common background sources are subject encyclopedias and dictionaries from our print and online reference collection. Class textbooks also provide definitions of terms and background information.
Finding Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
Use the Advanced search in our Catalog. Enter encyclopedia in Title AND type in your topic in All Fields
Use our Online Encyclopedias guide to locate reliable articles on your topic.
Ask a reference librarian to suggest appropriate titles.
Browse our Subject Guides.
Tip: Exploit Bibliographies
Read the background information and note any useful sources (books, journals, magazines, etc.) listed in the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article or dictionary entry. The sources cited in the bibliography are good starting points for further research.
Look up these sources in our catalogs and periodical databases. Check the subject headings listed in the subject field of the online record for these books and articles. Then do subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles.
Remember that many of the books and articles you find will themselves have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional useful resources for your research.
By using this technique of routinely following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a surprisingly large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short time.