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STS 301 : Technology & Culture: Subject Encyclopedias

Why use subject encyclopedias?

Entries in subject encyclopedias are not acceptable as sources in your final research paper, so why use them?  The main reason is because subject encyclopedias are invaluable starting points in the research process:

  • The topic overviews subject encyclopedias provide can help you figure out whether or not you need to narrow or expand the scope of your research project.
  • The entries are written by scholars with expertise in the subject area, so you can be assured of the quality of the information.
  • The bibliographies or "suggestions for further reading" found at the end of entries will lead you to important scholarly work on the topic.  The bibliographies sometimes also identify key primary sources, too.

An investment of thirty minutes of your time with subject encyclopedias thus can save you hours of digging or flailing about in the information universe!

Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments Series

If you are interested in a specific technology, the Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries series can be an excellent starting point!

Online Subject Encyclopedia Collections

The following links will take you to large digital collections of subject encyclopedias.  The Gale Virtual Reference Library is an especially good place to start for STS courses, as it includes the Mcgraw-Hill Dictionary of Science & Technology and the Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

Print Reference Sources

You'll find these print sources in the reference section on the main floor or in the main stacks! As you use these and other reference sources, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use the index to find your topic. Not all scholarly encyclopedias are arranged alphabetically, or your topic might be covered in a larger entry.
  • 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.