Why an encyclopedia?
Fast overview of a topic
Historical timeline & basic facts
Find out the right keywords for article searches
Find out the main issues in the field
Check for a list of suggested readings to start your real research
Wikipedia has quickly become a go-to internet source when you need an encyclopedia. But there have been some concerns about its authority and objectivity, so it should be used cautiously. Use your critical thinking skills – if the article has footnotes, a list of further readings, and feels balanced, it is more likely to be comparable to what you would find in a more traditional encyclopedia. And Wikipedia can be a wonderful source of arcane information: when you really need a list of original air dates for episodes of The Brady Bunch, Wikipedia is the right source!
When your needs are less Florence Henderson-centric, there are other excellent encyclopedias available online. This post will cover the big general ones:
Encyclopedia Britannica online (available by Duke subscription) replicates the authoritative print version but adds web-only tools, including historical timelines and country comparisons.
Enciclopedia Universal en Espanol is also produced by Britannica, but in Spanish and with a focus on Spain and Latin America.
The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th Edition) is available via InfoPlease.com and Bartelby.com; this is a shorter, one-volume encyclopedia in its print version. Both sites also have various other dictionaries, thesauruses, and almanacs – as well as ads (InfoPlease’s interface is far more busy and annoying, IMO).
Browse the list of Reference resources here for more useful starting places for research – and watch this space for highlights of some excellent subject-specific encyclopedias online.
Written by Phoebe Acheson