Using Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias

By Jan.12, 2018

Want to use something better than Wikipedia for your assignments? Anne suggests some alternatives.

When you get given a new assignment do you head straight to Wikipedia to find out what the words mean?

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if you’re going to research a topic and write about it you need to know what it is, right? However, Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced resource – meaning you don’t know who has written the information, or more importantly, if they know what they’re writing about.

The Library provides online access to a wealth of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and other publications such as directories and handbooks, which are known as reference works.

They are usually arranged in alphabetical order and provide short, factual articles to give you a brief overview of a topic – just like Wikipedia, but from a reliable, academic source.

what you can find in an encyclopaedia

  • A dictionary is a book providing definitions of words and phrases. It can be a language dictionary or a specialist subject dictionary. You can use dictionaries to help you understand the words and concepts in your essay question.
  • An encyclopaedia is a book, or set of books, giving information on either many branches of knowledge or a specific subject. You can use encyclopaedias to get an overview of your subject before you move on to more detailed research.

You can find some general collections of reference works through the Databases link on Library Search.

Library Search - Database link

database list of dictionaries

link to database

limit results by format
Some of our big subject databases, such as SpringerLink also contain entries from encyclopaedias.

Type in what you’re looking for, then see if you have the option to limit your results to something like “reference works”. Using a resource like this has the advantage that, once you know what the words mean, you can move straight on to searching for related journal articles and book chapters in the same database.



Do you know how to reference something you have found in an online dictionary? There’s advice here.

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