Communication : Dictionaries, Encyclopedias & Handbooks

Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

The library has several specialized encyclopedias on any given topic.  All listed materials are on the second floor of the library unless listed otherwise.

Why Reference Works?

Reference works are an excellent first stop in your research and are incredibly useful for the following:

  • Getting an overview of a topic
  • Getting ideas for a paper topic or narrowing your topic
  • Brainstorming keywords for searching and learning the vocabulary used by authors in that area
  • Discovering the key works on a given topic
  • Discovering the key authors on a given topic
  • Getting biographical information on key figures related to your topic

Reference works are a good starting off point, but should not be cited in your research as they are not considered primary or secondary sources. The only exception is when reference works contain primary and secondary sources (like collections of documents and essays).

Online Reference Resouces

A sampling of online reference resources available via the library:


Handbooks are similar to encyclopedias but more focused on a specific area, and each 'executive summary' is chapter length with more in-depth coverage of the field. Handbooks typically have 5-10 pages of citations at the end of the summary. To find additional handbooks try a keyword search in the Portland State Library catalog, using handbook and your topic area.