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SSI1-194: Technologies of Power: Tertiary (Background) Sources

Using Subject Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias and other reference resources are excellent places to start your research. An hour spent with one or more subject encyclopedias early on in the research process will save you hours of wasted time! 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.

Online Reference Collections

Online subject encyclopedia collections are an excellent way to explore how different disciplines look at topics. Each of these online collections will introduce you to a wealth of dictionaries and encyclopedias.