Encyclopaedias, handbooks and dictionaries

Secondary Sources: encyclopaedias, handbooks, dictionaries, glossaries and directories


Entries are arranged in alphabetical order, are fairly brief and are usually at an introductory level. There are also some more detailed encyclopaedias, such as the Encyclopedia of Management Theory that cover one specific subject area. Many encyclopaedias are available online and these are more flexible to use as they can be browsed by subject or searched using keywords. A good example of this is Oxford Quick Reference which is a collection containing english dictionaries and thesauri, bilingual dictionaries, subject dictionaries and general reference works.


Handbooks are arranged by topic, and not necessarily in alphabetical order. They usually contain tables, physical constants, charts and data formulae. Many handbooks are now available online.

  • Eysenck, MCognitive Psychology : a Student's Handbook, Psychology Press, London, 2015.
  • Moles, P. & Terry, N. The Handbook of International Financial Terms, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.
Dictionaries and glossaries

Glossaries will provide one standard meaning for a term, whereas a dictionary will provide all known uses of a term. Both will provide extra information per definition, for example, variant spellings and pronunciation. At the back of these publications there is often useful data such as conversion charts and symbols. Many glossaries are available on the web, for example the National Geographic glossary. You should always consider the quality of web glossaries before using any information you find.

Hardcopy examples
  • Law, J. A Dictionary of Finance and Banking, 5th edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014. 
  • Weller, B. Bailliere's Nurses' Dictionary : for Nurses and Health Care Workers, 26th edition. Elsevier/Bailliere Tindall, London, 2014. 

Directories contain lists of names and addresses, usually in alphabetical order. These can be commercial trade directories (buyer's guides), membership lists of professional associations or a subject grouping of universities or other organisations or companies. As printed directories become out of date very quickly, most are now available online.