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FYEN 10101.10 What is Myth? - Byrne

Specialized Background Information

After gaining basic background from a general encyclopedia, consider looking for more in depth background information in specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias.  Reading relevant entries from a subject-specific encyclopedia will provide more sophisticated context, concepts, and vocabulary in given fields, thus helping you expand and refine your search terms.

Look up subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries in the Libraries' Catalog by adding the word "encyclopedias" or "dictionaries" to your keyword search.  For example, to find a psychology encyclopedia you could perform the following search in the catalog: psychology encyclopedia.


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Janet Vogel
Director, Hiram College Library
11694 Hayden Street, P.O. Box 67
Hiram, OH 44234
(330) 569-5353

General Background Information

Sometimes it can be hard to narrow your topic. Using general resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries* or introductory books can give you background information to help you determine what you want to focus on. Once you have found a topic, the bibliography at the end of an encyclopedia article or book chapter may lead you to additional sources. 

At the Hiram College Library, we offer digital and print encyclopedias that may help you out. Use the resources below, or search the Hiram College Library for "world mythology"  or search for the country you want to learn more about and the word mythology (e.g. China and mythology) for a more complete listing of titles that may help you start your research. 

*You may be used to dictionaries where you look up words. Some dictionaries are more like shortened encyclopedias with brief articles about a topic. 

You may also wish to use some databases to search for articles and other information about your topic. The databases below are good for an overview of a variety of topics because they index multiple subjects.

Hiram College Library Local Catalog

Search for books using Hiram College Library catalog.

Hiram College Library Local Catalog

Advanced Search

Choosing Search Terms: Keywords vs Subject

Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings (a.k.a. descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases or the library's catalog for books.

It is not easy to guess which subject headings are used in a given database. For example, the phone book's Yellow Pages use subject headings. If you look for "Movie Theatres" you will find nothing, as they are listed under the subject heading "Theatres - Movies."

Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines.  Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.

Here are some key points about each type of search:

  • natural language words describing your topic - good to start with
  • pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database
  • more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways
  • less flexible to search by - need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • database looks for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together
  • database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear
  • may yield too many or too few results
  • if too many results - also uses subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject
  • may yield many irrelevant results
  • results usually very relevant to the topic

When you search a database and do not get the results you expect, Ask Us for advice.