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Tarleton State University Libraries Unit 3
REFERENCE WORKS: PURPOSE & USES
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image of reference books   Reference Works are often good starting points for research projects due to the depth and variety of information contained in them. They are not meant to be read cover to cover, but are designed to be consulted quickly. Most reference materials offer detailed tables of contents and indexes to facilitate usage.

Reference works are classified based on their format and the type of information offered. However, titles of reference materials do not always match their classification (for example, encyclopedias may be titled as handbooks, bibliographies may be called guides, and so on). As indicated below, reference works include many types of material, and specific types of reference works are designed to offer specific types of information.

•  Almanacs -- provide collections of data and statistics relating to states, events, subjects, countries, and so on. Example: The Almanac of American Employers
•  Atlases and Maps -- give geographic and spatial information, as well as often focusing on specific topics of geographic interest like historical, economic, and political matters. Example: Atlas of the World
•  Bibliographies or Guides to the Literature -- give lists of sources on a subject and often give helpful hints for locating additional research materials about a topic. Example: The Ultimate Business Library: 50 Books that Shaped Management Thinking
•  Biographical sources -- help patrons locate information about noteworthy persons (usually in specific occupations, careers, or professions), occur in various formats and types, and differ in depth of information included. Example: American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries
•  Directories -- help people locate and/or contact organizations, companies, people, experts, etc. by listing contact and other information (addresses, phone numbers, names, publications, descriptions, etc.). Example: Business Organizations, Agencies, and Publications Directory
•  Gazetteers -- show where specific physical features are located (e.g. a city, mountain, river, etc.) and may offer information about population and economic characteristics. Example: Texas Gazetteer
•  General Encyclopedias -- give introductory information about a topic, such as history, statistics, description, etc. Example: The Encyclopedia Americana
•  Handbooks and Manuals -- offer factual and statistical information, instructions, and quick access to field-specific information (e.g. equations, formulas, jargon, etc.). Example: The Employee Recruitment and Retention Handbook
•  Subject Encyclopedias -- include definitions, description, history, and more about a specific subject, but also offer extensive background information and bibliographies. Example: The IEBM Handbook of Human Resource Management and Business: The Ultimate Resource
•  Subject Dictionaries -- offer definitions and often short explanations of terms and concepts in specific fields or disciplines. Example: The Trainer's Dictionary: HRD Terms, Acronyms, Initials, and Abbreviations
•  Yearbooks -- provide yearly collections of data and statistics and offer a record of a specific year's activities by country, subject, or other specialized area. Example: National Business Education Yearbook

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Updated 7/2004