Tips for Using Enyclopedias
- Use the index to find your topic. Not all scholarly encyclopedias are arranged alphabetically, or your topic might be covered in a larger entry (for example, Lamarckianism might be discussed in the entry on evolution)
- Try to find cross references. Look for 'see also' at the beginning or end of a topic.
- Look for citations at the end of an entry. Helpful secondary books and articles may be listed, and you may even find citations to primary source material. Build a citation chain using this material.
Reputable Web Sites
More and more profssional organizations and university special collections are making useful material available on the web, so you may use some web sites for this project. Be sure you're choosing well. Evaluate the web sites you are using with this set of four criteria.
Here are a few examples of excellent web sites with resources that may help you out:
Research has many twists and turns, and just a few constants! Keep them in mind:
- Research is iterative. One search will give you ideas for a new search.
- Research is surprising. Be willing consider new information as you find it or change a thesis, if that's where your evidence leads you.
- Research needs time. Leave enough time for that perfect book to come in by ILL, or for yourself to read process that new article. Don't miss all of the great material out there by doing everything at the last minute.
- But don't let it take up too much time! If you find yourself going in circles ask for help.
Tip: Need to be efficient? Consider installing the Collins Library Toolbar, so that you always have Simon, Summit, the Journal Locator, RefWorks, ILLiad and more at your fingertips.
It seems counterintuitive, but a starting out by spending a little time with reference sources will ultimately save you time by giving you background on your topic and an inkling of whether you might need to broaden or narrow your question.
However, choose your reference sources well: avoid general encyclopedias. College-level reference sources are more specialized than general sources. A general encyclopedia would include Encyclopedia Britannica or Wikipedia. These sources are typically try to answer factual questions rather than giving insight into a scholarly domain.
Instead, look for subject encyclopedias. These focus only on one field of knowledge, and articles are written at the college level and by identified scholars. Their aim is usually to give the reader a glance at the scholarly knowledge on a particular topic, as well as an overview of the relevant facts.