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SSI2-148: Medical Narratives: Subject Encylopedias

Using Subject Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias and other reference resources are excellent places to start your research. Subject encyclopedias, handbooks and overviews are scholarly, tertiary works written by experts on a variety of topics. The articles are typically longer and more detailed than those found in general encyclopedias. You usually can expect to find the following important information in articles in subject encyclopedias:

  • An overview of the topic, with key individuals and events identified, and often some mention of how the topic has been debated or studied over time
  • words, phrases, names, dates, and events that can be used as keywords when searching a database
  • Cross references to give you a sense of the boundaries of the topic and its relationship to other topics
    • Look for "see also" at the beginning or end of the article
    • Some encyclopedias highlight words in the text of the article to indicate that there is a separate entry on that topic
  • Bibliographies of secondary literature (books and articles) on the topic; typically, these bibliographies point to just a few key sources, rather than overwhelming you with a comprehensive list.
  • Scholarly editions of primary sources may be listed in the bibliography
    • The main body of the article may mention key primary source writings and their author(s)
    • Some encyclopedias include excerpts of primary source materials

In Collins Library, the print reference collection is located on the first floor, and most of the online reference collection is available in one of the database collections listed below.  Use Primo to identify subject encyclopedias in either format; or ask a librarian for recommendations.

Featured Subject Encyclopedias

Although many subject encyclopedias are now available online via library subscription, some are still available only in print format. The subject encyclopedias listed here are good starting points, but you also should explore the entries in the online collections.

Online Reference Collections

Not sure where to look?  Each of these online collections will introduce you to a wealth of dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Subject Encyclopedias and Multidisciplinary Inquiry

When you are working with a topic that is complex and multi-faceted, subject encyclopedias can help you glimpse a more holistic framework.  Consider, for example, the following entries, all relating in some fashion to cancer:

Group 1: "Cancer," The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine (written by physician Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt with assistance fromTeresa Odle, a freelance writer and editor)

Group 2: "Cancer," Dictionary of American History (written by historian Robert Proctor)

Group 3: "Cancer," Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics (written by sociologist David Hess)

Group 4: "Cancer," St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (written by Luca Prono, a scholar of American Studies)

Group 5: "Cancer," Encyclopedia of Evolution (written by Michael Dean, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health)

How does the disciplinary expertise of the authors of each entry influence how they cover the topic of cancer?  What kinds of details are important to each?

Need Help?

This subject guide highlights only a small portion of the many resources available to you. If you're not finding what you need, don't hesitate to contact Katy!

Katy Curtis, Humanities Librarian
Schedule an appointment
tel: (253) 879-3672
office: Collins Library 140

If you can't find Katy, remember there are several ways to get help with your research

For immediate assistance, connect to our 24/7 Ask a Librarian chat service.