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What are Some Types of Reference Books?

Mary Elizabeth
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Different types of reference books provide different types of frequently used information in a handy format. Whether in book form or accessed online, there are a variety of type of reference books that you may find very helpful whether you’re in school, at work, at home, or on the road.

Some of the most frequently needed and used types of reference books are dictionaries. Standard dictionaries focus on the pronunciation and definition of the most commonly used words and phrases of standard English. These dictionaries list multiple meanings for words and may also include hyphenation, alternative spellings, an example sentence, and etymological information. Certain entries may feature a drawing or photograph.

Dictionaries are useful if you see or hear a word that is new to you and want to discover its meaning, as well as to make sure that words you have chosen to use in your writing or speaking are precisely the ones you want. Besides standard dictionaries, there are specialized dictionaries, such as biographical dictionaries, geographical dictionaries, children’s dictionaries, and bilingual dictionaries, as well as dictionaries for many, many languages.

Another popular example of one of the types of reference books is the thesaurus. A thesaurus may or may not have definitions and pronunciations, but it lists the synonyms, and sometimes the antonyms, of a word or phrase. A thesaurus can come in handy for a writer or speaker who wants to avoid repetition or needs to access a slightly different shade of meaning.

Most of a standard encyclopedia’s entry words and phrases will also be found in a dictionary, but while dictionary definition are usually limited to a single clause, phrase, or sentence, the type of reference books called encyclopedias features articles of some length, giving a fairly in-depth treatment of a subject. Encyclopedias characteristically include illustrations, charts, and other features that expand on the verbal explanation in the article proper. There are also specialized encyclopedias for children and for particular subject areas.

An atlas is among the reference books designed to help us understand geography. Filled with maps of a certain area — for example, a country, state, or region — it may be designed for study or for practical use during travel. Atlases are provided with indexes to help determine on which map each location can be found. Specialized atlases may focus on objects in space, such as the moon, or historical maps that reveal, for example, the changing boundaries of a country.

Other reference books that you may find useful include style guides, grammar guides, lexicons, and collections of quotations. All of these can be found both published as books and in a variety of forms that can be accessed online, or from your computer's desktop.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for Language & Humanities, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By anon254871 — On Mar 14, 2012

Dictionaries are very good to use for looking up words.

By elizabeth23 — On Jan 22, 2011

Atlases in particular that can be found in libraries are not usually the most up to date for things like roads and landmarks; if you just want the atlas for the use of looking at topography it is perhaps fine, but people who want atlases for things like planning road trips would do best to use one from the past two years; if not from the library, buying one new is a good idea. Sometimes used book stores have fairly recent atlases for a good price, and they are something that go on good sales at the end of the year in new book stores as well.

By mitchell14 — On Jan 21, 2011

Many websites exist now to serve as dictionaries and thesauruses, but they are not always a replacement for the real thing. Ever since I first used a legitimate, unabridged version of the Oxford English Dictionary, I cannot imagine just surfing the web for words I need to define when writing anymore.

By GuitarTop — On Jul 14, 2010

If you are ever in need of a reference book or tool and unsure what you need and where to find it, consult your local library. Librarians are there for your use and they are great reference tools themselves!

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth

Writer

Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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