Reference materials are tools crammed full of information and are intended to be referred to for quick answers, facts, dates, persons, places, events, etc. They are not intended to be read from cover to cover as are monographs or textbooks.
Many reference tools are now available in electronic form as well as in print. The TMC library provides access to many eReference books via the library catalog and the eReferences menu option. Using the eReferences link on the library Web site can make searching very quick and easy. Reference books generally have the subject matter of the book in the title; by simply searching a truncated form of either the topic or the broader field related to the topic a list of all eReference books related to the topic can be retrieved. For example searching “viole” in the free-text search box, will retrieve all the titles with violence and violent; a search for “theol” (not “theo”) will retrieve “theology” and “theological” while eliminating “theory” and “theodore”.
Types of Reference Tools
Not all reference materials are created equal. There are many different types of reference tools and although they serve their respective purposes very well, they don't all serve the same purpose. Each has its own distinct scope of coverage, arrangement, audience and strengths. Even the same type of reference tool will contain variations in content. Perusing the introductory pages or “about” and “Help” in the case of eReferences, will familiarize you with what each will and will not do.
Encyclopedias provide extensive information on all branches of knowledge, usually arranged in alphabetical order. They range from very general to very specific subjects. Experts are called upon to write articles anywhere from a few paragraphs to several pages in length. There are biases inherent with each author. And they don't all treat the same subject the same way. It will pay to look at more than one to glean the most information because they don't all give exactly the same information.
Some reference works contain the word "dictionary" in the title but they are more like encyclopedias than dictionaries and should not be overlooked just because of the title. Learn the scheme of organization of encyclopedias as they are not all simply alphabetical listings. Look over the “How to Use” portion, the Table of Contents, the abbreviations used, and any supplemental annuals that may be available.
Encyclopedias are especially useful in the beginning stages of research as they provide basic background information on a topic and perhaps a beginning subject bibliography.
General Encyclopedias – Columbia Encyclopedia (print), Encyclopaedia Britannica (available in print and online), Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with atlas and weather guide (online), Macmillan Encyclopedia (online), Philip's Encyclopedia (online) World Encyclopedia (online).
Subject Specific Encyclopedias - Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, Encyclopedia of Food Science & Technology, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
Dictionaries provide definitions for words, word etymology, spelling and pronunciation. As with encyclopedias, there are general and subject specific dictionaries and they vary in size, purpose, and strengths. Biggest is not necessarily best. Some are contain more than just definitions. They can contain charts and chronologies, rules of grammar and usage, common names and meanings, abbreviations, biographical names, chemical elements and other tables of information. Be familiar with the additional information contained in a dictionary's front and back. There are also word and phrase books generally compiled around a specific theme.
General Dictionaries - Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary (online; accounted to be the most exhaustive English language dictionary; it also gives elaborate etymology or word history development and usage), Random House Dictionary of the English Language.
Language Dictionaries - translations from one language to another
Specialized Dictionaries - Dictionary of Computing (online), Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians, Dictionary of Symbols.
Word/Phrase Books - Family Word finder: a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms, Abbreviations Dictionary, Dictionary of Clichés, Homophones and homographs, Acronyms, Initialisms, & Abbreviations Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes (online), Roget's Thesaurus (online).
An almanac is a one-volume annual reference that crams countless tidbits of information into a few thousand pages. They contain facts and statistics, weights & measures, calendars, formulas, sports records, population figures, government officials, etc. As you use them you will begin to get a feel for the kinds of information which can be obtained from them. Old almanacs can be very useful for historical data.
General Almanacs - Information Please, World Almanac (online), Statistical Abstract of the United States, Whitaker's Almanack (British).
Specialized Almanacs - Almanac of the 50 States, Old Farmers Almanac, Catholic Almanac, Places Rated Almanac, Almanac of American Politics, Almanac of European Politics, Almanac of American Education (online), Almanac of the Christian World.
Yearbooks are like encyclopedias but are restricted to the events and developments within a particular year.
General Yearbooks - Britannica Book of the Year, Americana Annual
Specialized Yearbooks - Mental Measurements Yearbook, Statistical Yearbook, Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, Yearbook of the United Nations, Broadcasting & Cable Yearbook.
Atlases and Gazetteers provide geographical and topical maps, historical periods, astronomical, and demographic information.
Examples of Atlases & Gazetteers - Andromeda Concise Atlas of World History (online), Times Atlas of the World, Columbia Gazetteer of the World, The Great Geographical Atlas by Rand McNally, Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide, Philip's Atlas of the Universe (online), We the People: an Atlas of America's Ethnic Diversity, Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible, World Atlas of Christian Missions. There are many maps on the internet as well.
Handbooks and Manuals provide factual information about specific subjects or organizations.
Examples of Handbooks - Handbook of Aging and Social Sciences (online), Political Handbook of the World, Handbook of Business Letters, The Communications Handbook, Handbook of Mathematical Functions, Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Handbook of Latin American Literature, Chicago Manual of Style, Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style Manual).
Directories provide names, addresses and some factual information concerning specific subjects or organizations.
Examples of Directories - American Library Directory, Ulrich's Periodical Directory (online), Washington Information Directory, Hispanic American Information Directory, Directory of American Scholars, Congressional Staff Directory, Northern California Business Directory.
Bibliographies are lists of resources: books, articles, documents, etc. The library catalog is a bibliography of the resources held in the Library. Bibliographies are often found at the end of books, research papers, encyclopedia articles, reports and dissertations. There are also books of bibliographies - books that list books often on a specific subject sometimes on multiple subjects. There are even bibliographies of bibliographies.
Examples of Bibliographies - Reader's Advisor, Sheehy's Guide to Reference Books, Katz - Magazines for Libraries, Books in Print, Minister's Library, Commentaries for Biblical Expositors
Indexes are finding tools for individual pieces of information. They tell you where you can find information on a particular subject, by a particular author, by a particular title even by phrases. There are special indexes for finding articles, book reviews, poems, plays, songs, essays, shorts stories and many other topics.
Examples of Indexes – ATLAReligion (online), Christian Periodical Index (online), Granger's Index to Poetry, Play Index, Short Story Index, Strong's Concordance, Song Finder, Popular Music Index, 20th Century Literary Movements Index.
Anthologies & Quotations
Bring together in one place selections or quotations from essays, poetry, drama, short stories, and other forms of literature.
Serve as source material for courses in literature, history, philosophy, theology, etc.
Examples of Anthologies - Norton Anthology of English Literature, World scripture: a comparative anthology of sacred texts
Examples of Quotations - Oxford Dictionary Quotations (online), Book of Bible quotations (online)
Biographies provide biographical and critical information about people representative of a specific subject.
Examples of Biographies - Who's Who in the Twentieth Century (online), Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Something About the Author (online), Contemporary Authors (online), Dictionary of Christian Biography, Dictionary of National Biography (online), Current Biography, Encyclopedia of Word Biography, Century Cyclopedia of Names
Chronologies provide time lines of historical events relating to specific fields of study.
Examples of Chronologies - Timetables of History, Timelines on File, Chronologies & Background Charts of the O.T., Chronologies & Background Charts of the N.T., Chronologies & Background Charts of Church History, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine.
Additional Research Guides
Basic Steps in Library Research – six simple steps explaining the research process
From Cite to Hand - Books – how to actually obtain books and other materials whether or not the library owns them
From Cite to Hand - Articles – how to actually obtain magazine and journal articles whether or not the library owns them
Finding Articles in Two, sometime Three, OK maybe Four Easy Steps
Identifying Scholarly Books – clues for distinguishing scholarly books and journals
Identifying Scholarly Periodicals- clues for distinguishing between magazines, journals and peer reviewed journals
Evaluating Resources – easy way to help evaluate the usefulness of research resource both paper and electronic
Research Worksheet – designed to make research simpler by working step by step through the research process
Copyright for Higher Education– help in understanding the copyright law as it pertains to faculty and students
© Janet Tillman/The Master’s College, 2004 - 2009, permission is granted for non-profit educational use; any reproduction or modification should include this statement.
Last updated December, 2010.