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. Here's what subject encyclopedias provide:
Although many subject encyclopedias are now available online via library subscription, some are still available only in print format. Print reference materials are located on the first floor of Collins Library, near the Learning Commons computers.
When you are working with a topic that is complex and multi-faceted, subject encyclopedias can help you glimpse a more holistic framework. Consider, for example, the following entries, all relating in some fashion to cancer:
How does the disciplinary expertise of the authors of each entry influence how they cover the topic of cancer? What kinds of details are important to each?
Although many subject encyclopedias are now available online via library subscription, some are still available only in print format. The subject encyclopedias listed here are good starting points, but you also should explore the entries in the online collections.
Not sure where to look? Each of these online collections will introduce you to a wealth of dictionaries and encyclopedias.