5 Use a Library Encyclopedia or Dictionary

Although you will likely start your background reading with a quick Google search, you should visit the library and its collection of reference materials early in your research. The library has access to many encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks, both in print and online.

Many books arranged in a spiral
Figure 1.4 The reference collection. Image by geralt.


Encyclopedias and handbooks will provide:

  • A broad overview of your topic
  • Sub-topics and related issues
  • Controversies and criticism
  • Key thinkers or researchers in the area
  • References, recommended articles, and links to further reading

Dictionaries will offer a definition of your term and related terms that will be important as you develop your search strategy.

From the Research Help guide linked on the library’s homepage, you can find several of the library’s reference collections listed on the Find Background Information page. Many subject-specific reference books can also be found on the various subject guides.

You can also access all of the library’s reference books from your Summon search by focussing your results using theĀ  “reference” filter. Recall that Summon is the default search box on the library’s homepage.

ACTIVITY: Watch, think and learn

The following short video from KPU Library demonstrates how to locate a source for background information using the library’s Summon search.



ACTIVITY: Use an encyclopedia article

The article below is from the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Psychology and was found using the library’s Summon search tool.

Click on the purple question marks to explore how an encylopedia can be useful at this stage of your research.

(Use Fullscreen to maximize the image, and your Esc button when finished.)



After this background work, you are now ready to start developing the research question you will try to answer for your assignment.


Image: “Library” by geralt.

Video: “Finding Background Information” by KPU Library is licensed under CC0.

Waller, G. (2006). Eating disorders. In G. Davey (Ed.), Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Psychology. Routledge. https://search-credoreference-com.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/content/entry/hodderdpsyc/eating_disorders/0



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Doing Research Copyright © 2020 by Celia Brinkerhoff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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