Subject Encyclopedias

Subject Encyclopedias

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Hi. My name is Ginny Heinrich and I’m a reference and instruction librarian in the Dewitt Wallace Library. I’m here to talk to you about the source that you’re probably rarely going to cite in your actual research paper, the encyclopedia. The unsung hero of the academic research process is the subject encyclopedia. Subject encyclopedias provide great things that help us in our research. First of all, well they’re about single subjects so you’re likely to find entries and information about not only your topic but lots of other closely related topics that can help you broaden your perspective before you start writing. The second thing that subject encyclopedias do that is really wonderful is that the entries are written usually by scholars in their field. So once you’ve identified entries that are on your topic, you can usually find the authors of those resources and find other works that are also by the people who have written those entries. The third thing that subject encyclopedias do that is my favorite thing ever is that they provide differing perspectives on the same topic. By consulting different subject encyclopedias on the same entry, you can find other information that you can pull together to broaden your horizons. For example, an entry on genetics in the Encyclopedia of Genetics is probably going to look different than the entry on genetics in the Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. By comparing and contrasting those entries, you can have a much richer paper, much more quickly. So next time you’re ready to sit down and write, take a step back and go look at those subject encyclopedias. Good luck, and write well.