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Information Literacy: Find the Context

An overview of the help that we can offer to support your studies and research

After you identify your research topic and some keywords that describe it, find and read articles in subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks. These articles will help you understand the context (historical, cultural, disciplinary) of your topic. They are the foundation supporting further research. The most common background sources are subject encyclopedias and dictionaries from our print and online reference collection. Class textbooks also provide definitions of terms and background information.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Dictionaries and encyclopedias are a great place to start your research as they are helpful for finding definitions, overviews, background information and basic facts. They may be general or subject specific, in print or online and may provide bibliographical references.

General Encyclopedias

General encyclopedias provide information on many topics – some will be more in depth than others but any general encyclopedia will give you information on your chosen subject area. Some frequently used online encyclopedias are: the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Subject Specific Encyclopedias

Unlike general encyclopedias which cover a wide range of topics, subject specific encyclopedias focus on a particular subject area. They are usually written by experts in the field and include comprehensive bibliographies of important resources. A frequently used online subject specific encyclopedia is Oxford Reference Online.

Searching the Library Catalogue for Subject Specific Resources

Do a subject heading search in Pendeta Discovery for your subject followed by the word “encyclopedias” or the older subject heading “dictionaries”. For example:

  • sociology encyclopedias
  • sociology dictionaries

Another method is to do a keyword Boolean search. For example:

  • (encyclopedias or dictionaries) and women
  • (encyclopedias or dictionaries) and “world war II”

For an overview of a person’s life and career, check biographical dictionaries, which can present brief information or a more detailed portrayal with bibliographical references. For more information, go to the Biographical Resources subject guide.


Bibliographies are invaluable resources for researchers as they list the literature of a subject. You can find bibliographies in textbooks, books, journal articles, to name a few. Found at the end of the publication, bibliographies can save you hours of research as they can lead you to relevant resources for your research.

Finding Bibliographies Using the Library Catalogue

Do a subject heading search in Pendeta Discovery for your subject followed by the word “bibliography”. For example:

  • great britain history bibliography
  • world war II, 1939-1945 bibliography

You can also add the word “bibliography” to a keyword search.

Also check the bibliographies section of your subject guide by going to Research by Subject.