Uses of an Encyclopedia

An encyclopedia is a reference tool with information on a wide range of topics. You find encyclopedias at most public schools and local libraries. Most sets are comprised of multiple volumes and list topics alphabetically. Encyclopedias also are available online. "Encyclopedia Britannica," "New World Encyclopedia" and "World Book Encyclopedia" offer both Internet and hard copy volumes. All online information is not correct or unbiased, so use encyclopedias with a reputation for providing legitimate information from expert and scholarly sources that you can verify.

Academic Research

Most students use both the internet and library resources when conducting academic research. According to Alison Head of the First Monday website, a common first step in the research process is accessing encyclopedias and scholarly journals at local libraries and online. Reputable encyclopedias give you the opportunity to add legitimate sources to research papers, presentations and theses. It is important that encyclopedia sources are credible, so it is essential to use online sources that are trustworthy and respected.

Personal Research

People use encyclopedias to broaden their knowledge on subjects of interest. There are many subject-specific encyclopedias available on a variety of topics including medicine, law, pop culture, history and wildlife. These encyclopedias give more in-depth information than those with general information on thousands of topics. General encyclopedias also meet the needs of people seeking basic research on many topics before seeking detailed information elsewhere.

Professional Research

General encyclopedias offer a general overview of a wide range of topics while subject-specific encyclopedias offer in-depth information on specific topics. Any profession that requires its specialists to perform ongoing research has a subject encyclopedia. There is, for example, an encyclopedia of psychiatry, one of law and economics and several on different aspects of medicine. They are available on a variety of topics and can contain one volume or 20 volumes. Professionals use them to check facts or to gain additional knowledge on a particular subject area.


If you want to learn the history of a culture, country or era, turn to a historical encyclopedia. If you want to research African American, Jewish or American history, you will find more information using an encyclopedia on these specific topics than you would in a general encyclopedia. "Utah History Encyclopedia" is one example of a specific historical encyclopedia, as is "The Historical Encyclopedia of World War II." These books have essays and entries written by experts scholars.

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