Why use academic encyclopedias? Academic encyclopedias help you do two things that are extremely important for producing good papers and projects:
- They help you expand your background knowledge on a given topic.
- They help you explore a given topic, by giving you important information about significant people, places, ideas, and events relating to your topic.
COCC’s Barber Library provides access to a number of excellent academic encyclopedias for you to use in your research. Most are available online. We even have an entire encyclopedia called Witchcraft in America that covers the Salem Witch Trials extensively.
Unlike Wikipedia, articles in these encyclopedias are written by experts and are signed, so that you know who wrote them. Even better, you CAN cite these academic encyclopedias in your paper. You can also use encyclopedia articles to identify key terms, important issues, and leading people in your topic, which will help you later on in the research process, as well.
You can find a searchable collection of the Library’s encyclopedias on the Library’s website. Click on the “Encyclopedias and More” button and then the link to “Encyclopedias.”
Once on this page, start with an entire collection of encyclopedias, like Credo Reference, which is an online reference collection containing over 550 books.
Credo Reference includes a very neat tool called a “Concept Map.” This tool uses your search term as the main concept (or topic) and shows you how other topics relate. For example, in the example mapped and pictured below, you can see that the Salem Witch Trials are related to Colonial Culture, Puritanism, and Colonial Government and Politics – some of these relationships might help you explore the topic of the cause of the Salem Witch Trials. You would need to click on the links and read to find out how they are related, but this is a great tool to help you make significant connections almost immediately.
You’ll find the Concept Map on the menu across the top of the screen (click on the image for a larger picture):
Enter your search term and click the “Search” button and you’ll see your concept map. You can click on any of the labels on the map to get more information about that topic. (Click on the image for a larger picture.)
Citations of Encyclopedia Articles
ALWAYS cite your sources. Whether quoting directly or paraphrasing “in your own words,” you need to cite the place where you got the information. For encyclopedia articles (as for other types of research materials), there is a specific citation format for your works cited page at the end of your paper. For more information on citations styles, see the Library’s Citation Style Guides page.
Author (if there is one). “Article Title.” Encyclopedia Title. Edition (if other than first). Year. Format.
An example would look like this:
Hoffer, Peter Charles. “Salem Witchcraft Trials.” Encyclopedia of American Studies. 2010. Online.