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The University of Massachusetts Amherst


Reference Resources

If you are researching an unfamiliar topic, reference resources can help you orient yourself. They can be very useful when you are narrowing down your research topic.

Reference resources, such as encyclopedias and bibliographies are:

  • Sources of reviewed and concise background information
  • Designed to help you easily locate the information that you need
  • A way to find existing research

Encyclopedias contain short articles. In addition to general encyclopedias such as the Encyclopædia Britannica, which span human knowledge, there are specialized ones for disciplines such as linguistics.

Example: Encyclopedia of applied linguistics edited by Carol Chapelle.

Dictionaries also contain articles that are usually listed in alphabetical order. They are similar to encyclopedias, but entries are usually more concise, making them a useful tool for quickly familiarizing yourself with a topic.

Example: Dictionary of historical and comparative linguistics by R.L. Trask.

Bibliographies are lists of sources on a topic that can be useful because they gather relevant books, articles, and other sources in one place.

Example: Bibliography of modern Romani linguistics : including a guide to Romani linguistics compiled by Peter Bakker and Yaron Matras

Finding Reference Resources

You can search for linguistics reference resources in Discovery Search using Library of Congress subject headings, which are standardized tags used to describe what a book is about. Although assigning these subject headings is still a subjective process, using standardized terminology (aka controlled vocabulary) enables you to find books on a particular topic even when authors use varying terms.

Example: One author may use the word "language" in the title of their book. Another may use "tongue." Both would receive the subject heading "Language and languages" and be discoverable through a search for DE "Language and languages".

Sample Searches

💡Quick Tip

The Library of Congress Subject Headings page lets you search for or browse authorized headings and subdivisions. Searching for single authorized subject headings in Discovery Search is simple if you use the format in the sample searches above. You can also try combining authorized subject headings with subdivisions for more specific searches; however, don't get discouraged if stringing together multiple subject headings does not yield results! There are extensive rules governing how subject headings can be combined.

Instead of combining subject headings yourself, you can always conduct a keyword search in Discovery, find a promising book record, and click on the subject headings assigned to it to see others that have the same ones.

📚Further reading

General Reference Resources