Reference book

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The Brockhaus encyclopedia is one of the best-known traditional reference works in German-speaking countries.

A reference work is a book or similar work that provides quick access to knowledge . Pure databases and comparable collections of data (such as telephone books ) are usually not counted among the reference works.

Depending on its character, a work belongs to the scientific aids or is aimed at general interested parties. The internal order can either follow the alphabet or some other system . Typical reference works are dictionaries and encyclopedias . The terminology is not always clear.

A reference work can be published in book form, as a CD-ROM or DVD , or it can be accessed on the Internet . Like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, it is then free (or even free in the sense of free knowledge ), or the operators try to make money. This can be done through ads or with a subscription or access fee. Loose-leaf collections are books in the form of a file folder, where you can subscribe to receive updated pages from time to time. A common example of this are collections of laws .

Traditionally, in addition to texts, reference works sometimes included images: photos , illustrations , information graphics , maps and plans . Digital reference works make it possible to also offer audio documents , video sequences and animations . The word multimedia is often used for this content .

Types of reference books

Jacob Grimm's manuscript for the German dictionary . The most comprehensive dictionary of the German language was started in 1838 and completed 123 years later.

A large number of works can be viewed as reference works. They can be arranged on an axis between the poles of dictionary and introductory literature. A dictionary is primarily understood to mean language dictionaries. They explain the use or meaning of words, either in a single language or with translation into another language. The word lexicon originally refers to such vocabulary collections. Another distinction is that between conversational and home dictionaries .

On the axis, in the direction of introductory literature, there are works that have longer and longer contributions on the individual keyword. The Brockhaus Encyclopedia still has relatively short articles that provide quick information and that are easy to refer to. For example, the American Collier's Encyclopedia and the Dutch Grote Spectrum Encyclopedia contain much longer articles. The advantage is that the reader gets to know a topic in great detail without having to jump from article to (related) article.

The manual dictionaries are located near the pole of introductory literature . They contain relatively few, but very long contributions. They already resemble introductory works for students in one subject.

When you think of a reference work, you think of an alphabetical order. It is based directly on language and is therefore in the most general order. But some works organize the knowledge according to a different system, according to factual contexts. An example of a systematic dictionary is a picture dictionary in which roughly all of the words on the subject of an automobile are presented on one page with a detailed picture of a car. A work with longer contributions according to a systematic order is called a manual . Chronicles use time as a system of order.

Encyclopædia Britannica , with one volume of Propedia (green), Micropedia (red) and Macropedia. There is also the two-volume index (blue) at the end.

The Encyclopædia Britannica has tried since 1974 to combine the advantages of the different lookup forms. Some volumes form the Micropedia , an actual reference work with many short articles. The Macropedia however, has long articles for depth reading. The Propedia is a systematic overview according to areas of knowledge, which should serve as an introduction, for the first step of the reader.

Experience shows that most users of a reference work quickly and easily search for a specific knowledge. This works best with the alphabet. Therefore, systematic works or works with long articles and a detailed should register (index) have.

Further examples


Among the catalogs include exhibition catalogs , museum catalogs , exhibition catalogs , product catalogs , etc. Also, libraries , archives and documentation open up their holdings with a catalog, often only as thick or today in digital form. For most art exhibitions , catalogs appear in book form, often with additional information on the subject or artist. Commercial catalogs from suppliers, mail order companies or publishers, including the indispensable VLB ( directory of available books ) - a bibliography in book form, as a CD-ROM or online - is such a catalog.


Bibliographies (also bibliographies ) are directories of references or catalogs for the literature search (books, magazines, other publications), mostly thematically (by area), branch bibliography or spatially oriented (estates, libraries). The German National Bibliography (exact title: German National Bibliography and Bibliography of German-Language Publications Published Abroad ) is compiled by the German National Library (DNB) and is the largest data collection of German-language literature. It records all mandatory copies of publications sent in in Germany.


An almanac is usually a yearbook on a specific topic, for example a fisherman's almanac or astronomical yearbooks such as the nautical almanac . Often with literary and artistic content.


An atlas is a cartographic reference work of geographical conditions: user-oriented ( e.g. school atlas ), historically or politically ( historical atlas ), regionally oriented (e.g. national atlas ). Not belonging to the cartographic products, but using the term atlas in the title, are, for example, anatomy atlases (collection of illustrations with explanations of the human body).

List of reference books

Bibliographical reference works

Biographical reference works

Theological reference works



See also

Web links

Commons : Reference Works  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: reference work  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations