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ENGL 101: Find Encyclopedias

Why start here?

One of the best ways to work smarter instead of harder in research is to begin with a good background understanding of your topic. The overview provided by a reference resource will help you refine and narrow the focus of your research and writing and it will provide you with the keywords you need to search effectively. 

Subject-specific Encyclopedias

There are different kinds of encyclopedias. Subject encyclopedias are scholarly sources written by subject matter experts and will:

  • Provide context for your topic
  • Identify keywords, notable figures in the field, and key concepts
  • Offer references that can provide more information

One example would be Culture Wars in America: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices.

Examples of subject encyclopedias

Search the Library Catalog

Another way to find background sources is to search for your broad topic and add encyclopedia in the main library search box.

For example, "mental health AND encyclopedia."

Encyclopedia Collections at OC Libraries

Wikipedia

Wikipedia can sometimes offer useful background information on a research topic, but Wikipedia is not an appropriate source for college papers. Wikipedia allows everyone to edit entries and there are over 100,000 edits daily, this results in some content that is incomplete, biased, or wrong. Many entries have significant gaps in information, inadequate sources, and out-of- date references. Only use Wikipedia with caution. 

Early in your research process, Wikipedia is one way to collect some good keywords and background information and the article's references can  offer credible sources to advance your research.

Don't ignore Wikipedia as a possible resource but engage with the articles critically and cautiously.