IRIS 42: Information and Research Instruction Suite for two-year colleges

Subject Encyclopedias: Tools for Success

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time-saving tipHere's some advice: An hour spent with one or two subject encyclopedias at the beginning of a research project could save you hours of wasted time.

A subject encyclopedia is different from a general encyclopedia. As you might guess, subject encyclopedias are usually devoted to a specific subject or area of interest, like law, biology, religion, or fashion.

General encyclopedias, such as World Book, Encyclopedia Americana, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, cover a little bit of all subjects. Articles in general encyclopedias are usually written by journalists, not scholars. General encyclopedias have their place: they're useful if you just need a quick introduction to a topic. But for most college-level research, general encyclopedias are too lightweight.

By the way, Wikipedia.com, the popular online collaborative encyclopedia, falls into the category of a general encyclopedia.

Your instructor may have told you not to use encyclopedias, but check to see if she or he meant general encyclopedias. Most instructors will accept articles from subject encyclopedias because these are scholarly sources.

Learning Outomes

After completing this tutorial you should be able to

  • identify three reasons to use subject encyclopedias;
  • identify the types of authors who write articles in subject encyclopedias.

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updated: 5/12/08