COMM 220 - Public Speaking: Analyze Your Topic

Analyze - Step 1 - Why Reference Works?

Reference sources (such as encyclopedias and dictionaries) are excellent places to gain information to help you start analyzing your topic.  They will give you quick overviews that help you understand the scope of your topic and what its related subject areas may be. Scholarly reference works can provide:

  • An overview of a topic
  • Topic ideas for a paper topic or narrowing your topic
  • Finding keywords for searches 
  • Bibliographies for further research

Reference works are good starting points for research, but wouldn't be considered a scholarly source in the way that a peer reviewed journal article or a chapter from a scholarly book would.  Reference sources will help you develop your understanding of a topic so you will know how best to incorporate the evidence or arguments from the scholarly sources you will cite.  Think of these resources as making you smarter.

Subject Encyclopedias

Scholarly subject encyclopedias provide background information about specific topics. Entries or articles, written by scholars or subject experts, include bibliographies or suggested readings that will lead to more information on your topic.

You can use subject encyclopedias to identify keywords for your research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.


As well as general language dictionaries (such as the New American Oxford Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary),  there are often discipline, profession and topic-specific dictionaries.  These sources can help you get up to speed very quickly.