"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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/00039-5. 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:
Search across multiple subject specific encyclopedias and handbooks:
Handbooks provide essays covering recent developments in particular disciplinary sub-topics. The term companion may also be used, as in the series Blackwell companions to sociology.
Search for relevant handbooks within a Reference Database or in the Library Catalog by entering the keywords handbook or companion, followed by your topic keywords. It may help to search for keywords in the title.
Examples of topical handbook titles include: The Wiley Blackwell companion to the sociology of families; Handbook of medical sociology; The Oxford handbook of ethnicity, crime, and immigration.
Topical encyclopedias cover specialized fields that overlap or are closely related to sociological inquiry.
Search for relevant encyclopedias within a Reference Database or in the Library Catalog by entering the keyword encyclopedia, followed by your topic keywords. It may help to search for keywords in the title.
Some relevant titles include: