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Provides guidance on information resources and search strategies on conducting library research in psychology.

Introduction: Reference Works and Background Information

About Reference Works 

"The purpose of an encyclopedia is to summarize and codify knowledge in a given field. This is in contrast to a handbook, which offers essays on cutting-edge research in a field, or a dictionary, which provides short, to-the-point definitions of key concepts in a field."
Source: Sica, A. (2001). Encyclopedias, Handbooks, and Dictionaries. In N.J. Smelser & P.B. Baltes (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Retrieved from As cited in American Library Association. (2011). ALA Guide to Sociology & Psychology Reference. Chicago: Author.

Use reference materials to find background information.  Reference books can help you:

  • Explore a topic: find out what has been said about this subject, trends, issues, etc.
  • Identify and define unfamiliar terms or people in your reading
  • Find references to other books and articles on the subject
  • Find specific keywords to use in online searches

Best Bets: General Psychology Reference

Psychology Reference Works - General

Topical Reference Works - Overview

Topical Handbooks in Psychology

Handbooks provide essays covering recent developments in particular disciplinary sub-topics.

Search for relevant handbooks within a Reference Database (listed below), or in Library Catalog Search by entering the keyword handbook followed by your topic keywords. It may help to search for keywords in the title.

Online reference collections that specifically contain psychology handbooks include:

Topical Encyclopedias in Psychology

Topical encyclopedias cover specialized fields that overlap or are closely related to psychological inquiry.

Search for relevant encyclopedias within a Reference Database (listed below) or in Library Catalog Search by entering the keyword encyclopedia, followed by your topic keywords. It may help to search for keywords in the title.

Reference Databases

Search across multiple subject specific encyclopedias and handbooks:

Clinical Psychology - Topical Reference Works

Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience - Topical Reference Works

Educational Psychology - Topical Reference Works

Social Psychology - Topical Reference Works