To find. . . . . . go here.

1. Reference books, like encyclopedias, give short descriptions of a topic, written by an expert in the field.

Reference librarians know what books in their reference collection will help you understand your topic.

Go to the reference desk and tell the librarian your research question(s). She will show you the best resources in the library for your topic.

2. General encyclopedias are helpful if you have very little information on your topic.

These encyclopedias usually do not cover social issues or specialized fields.


The encyclopedia shelves in the Mt.SAC library and Dewey number 031. Ask at the Information Desk for assistance.

3. Specialized encyclopedias are more frequently used by college-level researchers.

These encyclopedias are written by experts in the field and give more coverage of your topic than a general encyclopedia.

Again, ask a librarian to show you the best encyclopedia for your topic.

Online reference works at Mt. SAC include:
CQ Researcher Online
Gale Virtual Reference Library
Grove Art Online

Topic: Development of social skills in children
Use the following reference books:
Encyclopedia of Human Behavior
Ref 150.3En19
Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood & Adolescence
Ref 305.21G131
Growing Up
Ref 305.231B79g


4. Sometimes you can have trouble finding your topic. Your topic can get lost within a large encyclopedia. You may not refer to an idea with the same words as the encyclopedia editors. Or your topic may be included in an article on a larger subject.

Look in the index in the back of the encyclopedia, or in the back of the last volume in the encyclopedia set. Use the keywords that you already have on your list from Step 1.

Some encyclopedias also provide a list of topics, similar to a table of contents, at the beginning of the book or set of volumes. Make use of this helpful tool as well.

Source: Encyclopedia of Human Behavior
Topic found in table of contents under:
"socioemotional development"
"social values"

Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood & Adolescence
Topic found in index under:
"self esteem"
"social competence"

Source: Growing Up
Topic found in table of contents under:
"self esteem"
"socialization, agents of"
"socialization, techniques of"


4a. Some professors will ask that you not include encyclopedias on your bibliography. This is because the information in encyclopedias is considered to be common knowledge. In general encyclopedias this is particuarly true. Specialized encyclopedias contain specialized knowledge, but all practitioners in the field are expected to know this information.

The advantage of using an encyclopedia, even if you cannot cite it in your bibliography, is that it gives you a basic understanding of your topic. This understanding helps you refine your research question(s) and gives you keywords and concepts that will help locate information in the large article databases. This understanding also gives you the level of expertise required to determine the credibility of resources you find on the Internet and elsewhere.

Tip: If you photocopy information from an encyclopedia, make a copy of the title page to use later in your bibliography. Do not forget to note the copyright date.
Now that you have an understanding of your topic, you are now ready to (3.) refine your topic and use the best keywords to (4.) search for books, videos and other library resources, articles or high quality websites.