Encyclopedias and Dictionaries – OHIO University Libraries

When beginning research on a new topic, it’s often a good idea to start by reading one or several encyclopedia articles on it. This serves two purposes:

  1. Gives you an overview of the topic, plus some of the important terminology associated with it which you can then use when searching in databases, library catalogs, etc.
  2. Often provides a brief bibliography at the ends of the articles, i.e., sources specifically recommended for further research by the author of the article. It’s usually a very simple matter to track these down in ALICE or OhioLINK.
For more about the effective use of encyclopedias, see this page about types of research tools. Many of our Subject and Course Guides will also contain information on and links to encyclopedias on particular areas of research.

We recommend that you try using one or more of the sources below to find background information on a topic:

The Gale Virtual Reference Library is an online collection of encyclopedias, dictionaries, biography sources, statistics, and other information. Categories include: arts, biography, business, education, environment, general reference, history, information and publishing, law, literature, medicine, multicultural studies, nation and world, religion, science, social science, and technology.


There are hundreds of English language dictionaries, both online and in printed form. The most scholarly of these is the Oxford English Dictionary (below). Here are links to a number of online English dictionaries. Alden Library has a wide range of printed dictionaries and other “word books” in the Reference collection on the 2nd floor in the general call number range of PE1400-PE1700.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) provides definitions of over 500,000 English words from the Middle Ages to the present; traces the usage of words from their first recorded occurrence to the modern period through 2.5 million quotations; offers etymological analysis and detailed listings of variant spellings; and uses the International Phonetic Alphabet to show pronunciation.