Note: this is the second post in an 8-part series of tips designed to make you a better researcher. Click here to read the whole series.
“Reference books” are the dictionaries, encyclopedias, lexicons, atlases, concordances, etc. located in our libraries. And our reference books go far beyond the World Book Encyclopedia you may have used in elementary school!
Academic reference books are scholarly, detailed, and subject-specific. The beautiful thing about scholarly encyclopedias and dictionaries is that they can give you a quick, authoritative overview of your topic. Within a few minutes of locating an entry in a reference book, you’ll have a broad understanding of the history, important people, and important research studies related to your topic.
Here’s an example: this 3-page article about Alzheimer’s disease from the Encyclopedia of Epidemiology (APU NetID and password required) was written by an expert on the topic. It quickly covers the history of Alzheimer’s disease, describes diagnostic tools and treatment options, and even has a list of recommended books and articles on the subject. Once you’ve read the article, you’ll have a great grasp on the topic, plus a list of sources to read. Even better, you’ll have an idea of some key terms you can search for in the library catalog and article databases.
We have thousands of reference books in the libraries, and most of them are available in print. The easiest way to find them is to do a search in our library catalog for your broad topic (school psychology, the reformation, economics, sculpture, American poetry, ecology, etc.), limiting to the Reference collection.
In addition to our printed reference books, we have several databases that contain digitized encyclopedias and dictionaries. Often with an online reference book, you can do a keyword search for your topic and download a brief article about it without even leaving your desk–just like our Alzheimer’s example above.
Finally, you can always ask a librarian for recommendations. We love to help you locate reference books, especially since it means we get to learn something new about your topic!