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How to Write an Encyclopedia


Encyclopedias are regarded as bastions and repositories of information. While the most widely recognized encyclopedias -- Britannica, World Book, Wikipedia -- focus on general knowledge, many individually produced encyclopedias focus on specific topics, such as states, sports teams or even persons. Because general knowledge encyclopedias are compiled by teams of hundreds of researchers and authors, it is more realistic for an individual to write a topic-specific encyclopedia. Writing an encyclopedia, therefore, requires countless hours of preparation and research.

Choose a topic on which your encyclopedia will focus. As there are hundreds of general information encyclopedias, the more specific your topic is, the better. For example, rather than simply writing about sports or even American football, it would be better to focus on a specific aspect of American football such as the defense, offense or special teams, or a position such as linebacker, quarterback or wide receiver, or even a team such as the Cardinals, Giants or Steelers.

Identify the experts of your specified topic. These will include people ranging from academics at a university to journalists to aficionados. For example, if you want to write an encyclopedia on the Pittsburgh Steelers, you might identify people such as former players, news reporters that cover the team, announcers that work at the game, and season ticket holders. Identify as many experts as possible.

Request your identified experts to submit to you a list of the most memorable features of your selected topic as possible. Select a maximum number of features you want your experts to identify, probably between 25 and 100. For example, for a Steelers encyclopedia, you might ask experts to name the 50 most memorable things about the Steelers.

Compile a master list of potential subjects out of all the experts' submissions. Log the frequency with which some subjects are repeated.

Research the most commonly repeated subjects first to create your entries. For example, for a Steelers' encyclopedia, you may wish to research and write the entry for "The Immaculate Reception" before you research and write the entry for "William Gay."

Compose your entries. You can choose to format your entries however you like. Some encyclopedias require longer entries ranging from 1000 to 2000 words, while other encyclopedias only ask for 300 to 400 words per entry. All encyclopedia entries should contain basic journalistic information; this means writing an entry that appropriately, sufficiently and concisely provides information to the "five-Ws": who, what, where, when and why.

Alphabetize your entries to make it easy to navigate your encyclopedia.

References
  • "Enlightening the World: Encyclopédie, the Book that Changed the Course of History"; Philip Blom; 2004
About the Author

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.

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