Dictionaries and encyclopedias are a great place to start your research as they are helpful for finding definitions, overviews, background information and basic facts. They may be general or subject specific, in print or online and may provide bibliographical references.
Search QCAT, the Library Catalogue
To find encyclopedias or dictionaries on your topic, search QCAT by subject or keywords.
Do a subject heading search in QCAT for your subject followed by the word “encyclopedias” or the older subject heading “dictionaries”. For example:
Another method is to do a keyword Boolean search. For example:
(encyclopedias or dictionaries) and women
(encyclopedias or dictionaries) and “world war II”
Consult Subject Guides
Look at our subject guides which list selected online and print reference sources for specific subjects and disciplines.
Consult General Encyclopedias
General encyclopedias provide information on many topics – some will be more in depth than others but any general encyclopedia will give you information on your chosen subject area. Some frequently used online encyclopedias are the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Canadian Encyclopedia.
Consult Subject Specific Encyclopedias
Unlike general encyclopedias which cover a wide range of topics, subject specific encyclopedias focus on a particular subject area. They are usually written by experts in the field and include comprehensive bibliographies of important resources. A frequently used online subject specific encyclopedia is Oxford Reference Online.
To locate subject specific encyclopedias, you can search QCAT, or check the dictionaries/encyclopedia sections of our Research by Subject guides.
For an overview of a person’s life and career, check biographical dictionaries, which can present brief information or a more detailed portrayal with bibliographical references.
Wikipedia can be an useful resource, especially when you begin research. But it must be taken with a grain of salt. Even Wikipedia cautions you against using it as a source.
Wikipedia articles can be written and edited by anyone and therefore are works in progress. Wikipedia can be a starting point for research - gaining a general understanding of a topic and finding potential resources for further in-depth information.
For more information, refer to Wikipedia's page on Researching with Wikipedia.
Examples of encyclopedias: