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Online Reference Resources: Finding and using resources

A brief guide to online reference resources

Reference resources such as almanacs, dictionaries, encyclopediae and thesauri etc. are a quick and easy way to:

  • examine facts and statistics about the world
  • decipher abbreviations and definitions
  • gain an overview of a topic                                           

They can be really useful resources as you begin your background research into a topic, before you move on to more in depth research via your Subject databases.

The availability of these resources in online format has made discovery a much quicker and easier process.

You can search online to discover the material you need, instead of wading through printed indexes and multi volume printed works. Printed reference works were traditionally for use within the library online. Online reference works are available to you 24/7 from wherever you login. 

Finding and Using Reference Resources

  • The key online resources flagged here provide access to a wide range of reference works across many different subject disciplines.
  • You can examine a particular work in detail, or search across a range of different reference works to find content on your topic of interest.
  • These are a great starting point for your research if you need to explore unfamiliar concepts or research areas.

Oxford Reference Online contains works spanning these subject areas / categories


Screenshot of Browse menu for reference materials on Sage Knowledge


Gale ebooks search screen showing subjects and search box

The Library Search services will help you discover books, journals, articles, audio visual material and more on your chosen topic. This is a good place to start when you are beginning to research a topic as you can draw on content from a variety of different sources.

Just add dictionary or encyclopedia and your topic to see what is available. For example; language dictionaryfrench dictionarylegal encyclopedia, quotation dictionary

Online support is available for Library Search.

Library Search


Library Search Example

Search for energy encyclopedia in Library Search and view the results.

A mix of print and online titles are available.

Key Online Language Dictionaries

Free Language Resources

Cambridge Dictionary: A mixture of free and subscription resources. Various language dictionaries are freely available. 

Collins dictionary: Free online resource. Includes dictionaries for Enfgish or bilingual word reference for various languages plus thesauri. Free online dictionary. Thesaurus also available as well as a free mobile app. The Random House unabridged dictionary is the foundation of this resource.

Merriam-Webster dictionary online: Free access to longstanding US dictionary and thesaurus service

You may come across references to key people/names in your research.

If these names are unfamiliar you can use the online biographical resources to find out more about their life and works and their contribution to history and society

People / Biography Resources

You may need to explore key facts and figures about a country.  For example you may want to look at a country's or region's:

  • size
  • climate
  • population demographics
  • political scene 
  • key industries and productivity.

Key Resources

Also take a look at the Statistics LibGuide and explore the Business LibGuides

Legal Dictionaries

You can use Library Search to discover online and print legal dictionary titles available you you. 

The majority of the print legal dictionaries are shelved at KL 40 in the Law Library Reference Section - Bay 1 in the Law Library.

Examples include:

Specialist Reference Works

As well as general reference works you will reference works which focus on particular legal topics or disciplines. Examples include the following.  There are many more! Library Search will help you to find these

Halsbury's Laws of England

The encyclopedia is arranged alphabetically by topic and provides up to date commentary and links to relevant caselaw and legislation.

The online version via Lexis makes it easy for you to follow through references to relevant case law, legislation and commentary.

It also makes it easy to search for topics that straddle a range of legal areas.

The multi volume print version is also available for quick reference in Bay 1 of the Law Library.

The books in the Very Short Introductions series act as a bridge between reference works and higher academic work, providing easy-to-read introductions to a diverse range of subject areas. All titles provide intelligent and serious introductions to a huge range of subjects, written by experts in the field who combine facts, analysis, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make challenging topics highly readable.



Wikipedia is a free online collaborative encyclopedia.

Launched in 2001, it has grown in popularity and become one of the most visited websites on the internet, with millions of visitors every month.

To find out more about this resource, including discussion of its value as a research resource, take a look at the Wikipedia LibGuide.

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