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Reference Sources: Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks, and More!: Home

Do you usually use Wikipedia to get your bearings on a topic? Find even more from authoritative resources using the Library's specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other "reference" sources.

What are reference sources and why would I use them?

Reference resources supply background information on a subject or person, general information regarding a process, and definitions of terms or concepts. Types of reference materials include encyclopedias, dictionaries, indexes, almanacs, handbooks, statistical directories, biographical handbooks, chronologies, and other related materials.

Reference resources acquaint you with unfamiliar topics by giving you:

  • Substantial overviews of an idea, field, subject or event 
  • Accurate and easy-to-understand definitions 
  • Analysis of noteworthy events 
  • Biographical information

Quickly Learn Subject Essentials

Researching an unfamiliar topic?
Here are the types of resources that can quickly orient you to a topic!

Subject specific encyclopedias.You're probably familiar with general encyclopedias - which are useful. But specialized encyclopedias are often perfect for really zeroing in on a subject, person, idea, or event. 

Specialized dictionariesThe Library offers print and digital foreign language dictionaries, basic English language dictionaries, and numerous specialized dictionaries.

Chronologies or timelines.These reference books and webpages summarize the advancement of an event or happening by supplying brief milestones in the progression of the event. The summaries will be presented day-by-day, year-by-year, or by another chronological breakdown.

Handbooks or Manuals. Handbooks and manuals contain compiled information on a specific topic, which can be anything from writer's manuals to biomedical engineering handbooks.Handbooks and manuals are usually designed for quick and easy reference, and cover areas relating to the topic that might include general information, research in the field, methodologies, policies, procedures, and/or instructions.   

 Biographical InformationBiographies contain accounts of a person or multiple people's lives, that are written by someone other than the subject of the biography. Sometimes biographies can focus on an object or a concept as their subject as well. For more information, see the Biography guide.

Related Research Guides

Aren't "Reference Resources" on the Web?

Yes. Reference resources like encyclopedias, timelines, etc. are also on the Web. If you find one that looks good, just be sure to evaluate it so you know the contents are authoritative.

Getting Your Research Started with Reference Sources

Discover thousands of digital and print reference books & sites.

  • Use the Start My Research search box
  • Type in a keyword or phrase to describe your topic and combine it with the word encyclopedias, dictionaries, chronology, or handbooks. 
  • For example:
    • psychology encyclopedias
    • law encyclopedias
    • philosophy dictionaries
    • chemistry handbooks
    • Vietnam war chronology
  • Click on the search button
  • Limit your Content Type (on left) to books/ebooks.
  • Voilà!  Chances are, you've retrieved records for the kind of books and ebooks you need.

General Online Reference Sources

Auraria Library