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SSI2-132: Wild Things

Consulting Subject Encyclopedias

Building context (and recognizing when you need more context) is an important element in the research process. Tertiary sources, especially subject encyclopedias, are often the best place to start when you are trying to establish some basic historical, social, or cultural context.

Articles in subject encyclopedias are written by scholars who have deep specialization in the topic and the articles themselves go through a stringent editing process. You usually can expect to find the following important information in articles in subject encyclopedias:

  • broad overview of a topic that is more in-depth than in general encyclopedias
  • Discussion of how scholars have approached, explored, and debated the topic over time (historiography)
  • Words, phrases, names, dates, and events that can be used as keywords when searching a database
  • Bibliographies in articles to find other sources (both primary and secondary)
  • Cross-references to find related topics

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.

Recommended Resources for Literature and Culture

Recommended Resources for Science, Nature, and the Environment

Online Reference Collections

Not sure where to look? Each of these online collections will introduce you to a wealth of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other tertiary sources.