Publication date: 2000-08-27
* A host of encyclopedias -- both free and for a fee -- are only a few keystrokes away on the Web.
It's time to do a term paper or even an essay. Maybe you need an idea. Maybe you need to check a date, or how a name is spelled, or verify information. Maybe one item is not worth fighting traffic to get to the library.
If you have access to the Internet, you have access to a researcher's paradise. Scores of sites -- some that mirror the most popular and reliable encyclopedias -- are free and easy to use. Some sites charge subscription fees, but offer advantages over the free sites.
For high school students, freshman college students and even people who write a lot of information at computer terminals, the resources on the Web are vast and don't require a CD-ROM to work properly.
Incidentally, three notes:
First: My primary focus for inclusion in this list was reliability. I found about 1,100 online encyclopedias of differernt sorts on the Web. Some were a waste of Web space. Those listed here are the ones I consider the most reliable, accurate and, especially, accountable. By accountability, that means they have a reputation to uphold if they want to stay in business.
Second: None of the sites listed below even faintly approaches the vast amount of material on the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet). The agency provides a package that includes Grolier Online, Encyclopedia Americana and several databases that search publications, records and other research materials. Alas, the connection is only available from universities, schools and public libraries. Check with any public library or your school to get access to MOREnet.
Third: Modem speed is a consideration on these sites. If you're on a high-speed connection, you're fine. But on my 56K at home, I had no trouble most of the time even though I never got faster than 44kps. And on my T1 in the office, I actually didn't see a big difference in navigating the encyclopedia sites.
I've actually used the Encarta and Britannica sites on a 28.8 modem on my secondary computer at home and didn't see a problem.
Fourth: I checked the sites with two entries: James P. Beckwourth, the black adventurer, former slave and expatriate Crow Indian who blazed the Beckwourth Pass through the Rocky Mountains, and the Baha'i' Faith, a religion that believes in the unity of humankind through one God.
Beckwourth has such an amusing -- often exaggerated -- history that I gauge reference books by how objectively they approach him -- or even even if they get his last name spelled right.
The Baha'i' Faith, a religion that believes in the unity of humankind through one god, is another source of differing definitions, although only one is accurate. For instance, one encyclopedia -- not listed here -- called it an "Islamic sect." Yuck!
InternetOracle.com for encyclopedias
home page: http://www.InternetOracle.com/
This is heaven on Earth for Internet research junkies. The site is actually a list of research search engines; many of them are connected to encyclopedias, dictionaries and services that specialize in science, history, English, philosophy and most other topics. Punch in the URL and up pops a page "Encyclopedias Search Engines." The list has 18 entries, including an atlas, the standard Britannica.com, Columbia Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia.com, Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia and Microsoft Encarta. The list also includes other search engines such as the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Jewish Source, Encyclopaedia of the Orient, Information Please and others.
Beside the buttons linked to the encyclopedias are search windows, so users don't have to switch to a new Web site to get an answer to a search term.
To the left of the list of search engines is a stack of more search engines grouped by subject and genre. One title, Reference and Research, opens a list of more search engines for biographies, libraries, dic tionaries, glossaries and acronyms, homework helpers, maps and a bunch more.
The main list has search engines for film, games, MP3, women's issues, gay and lesbian issues, Macintosh sites, health issues, engines to help find people and companies, and a whole lot more. Each button leads to other groups of buttons. I never found the bottom.
The only downside: this free service comes with a lot of advertising in the form of banner ads at the top that might flash, move or otherwise annoy. At the bottom of pages there are buttons to things that look interesting, but turn out to be more fee-based services, such as getting your credit report if you sign up for a service. But this great service has to pay for itself, so the "free money" ads are tolerable.
World Book Encyclopedia Online
World Book is the last holdout among the big guns of encyclopedias when it comes to charging fees to peruse its information. Is $10 a month or $50 a year worth it? Read on.
Frankly, I liked its articles more than those I found in Britannica.com. But what's best is the scholarship. At the bottom of each article are the names of the authors, and -- get this -- a model of the citation that a student would use in a bibliography or Works Cited page in a research paper.
It also includes a special help button to show different forms of citations for different formats. I was able to use the cut-and-paste function from my computer to move a citation to a word-processing page, and, with few adjustments, there it was: author, title, book reference, URL, publisher, date -- the works, as if I'd done it myself. (A moment of silence for college instructors trying to teach documentation of research papers.)
This site was the easiest to use, and the most responsive and accurately researched encyclopedia that I found. It has an atlas, current-events articles and an entertaining addition called "Back in Time" that paints a cultural picture of time periods.
Because it is a fee-based service, no ads clutter the viewing screen. It's all business. But while articles are scholarly, they aren't very advanced.
This is an excellent site. So it's worth the 30-day free trial to decide for yourself. What's refreshingly ethical is that the free trial doesn't ask for a credit-card number. So if you forget to say no, it will expire and turn you off rather than start billing your credit cards.
This site has always been a favorite, but it choked while charging fees. Now it's free but pays for itself with advertising. With multimedia presentations that rival public television, its offerings are as good as the hardback with the addition of links.
The site turned off some visitors when it went free earlier this year because the traffic clogged its servers. But the traffic has subsided and it's among the easiest to navigate and use. It even has a place to get free e-mail.
Incidentally, there is another site, Encyclopaedia Britanica Online at http://www.eb.com, which is $5 a month for a subscriber's fee and is a lot less cluttered. Plus, there's a free trial.
The site not only provides research into its libraries, it presents features that make the site a virtual museum online. Sometimes it's difficult to stick to business. More than once I was pulled to the side to look at something I didn't need.
Upon entering a search term, the site pulls up several categories. One is a list of Web sites (that may or may not be on the topic), the next is the Britannica entry on the search term, next is a list of magazine articles on the term and, finally, a list of related products, primarily books on sale from Barnes & Noble.
As for credibility, the Britannica articles are the same as those in the world-renowned, hard-cover books. The James Beckwourth article I got from the Web was identical to the one in my encyclopedias at home.
Incidentally, I was unable to find Macropaedia entries. Those are the book-length examinations of knowledge that come with the hardback set of Britannicas.
But the yearbooks seem available through the current-events buttons throughout the site.
Funk and Wagnalls once was a popular encyclopedia, until it got squeezed by the kid-friendly World Book and Compton's, and overwhelmed by the scholar-friendly Britannica and Americana.
But rather than giving up, it attacked the Web with a vengeance. Now, you can research the encyclopedia on the Web, and sign up for a mailing list that is quite engaging.
The site is magnetic. The opening screen has entries titled Current Event in Focus and Moments in History that are pretty good reading, with one article forcing me to miss a popular sitcom on television. Poor me.
It's academically friendly, providing help for scholarly work. Its term-paper tools include lessons on how to write a term paper step by step, how to work up a research strategy, how to develop a thesis, note taking, outlining, grammar and style tips, illustrations and even a list of term-paper topics.
The site also includes buttons for a dictionary, thesaurus, world atlas, animal encyclopedia and media gallery.
Psst! Quiet as it's kept, Funk and Wagnalls is the foundation -- as in grandfather -- of Microsoft Encarta. That's where the software company got the first materials for its encyclopedia.
While this has a shallow encyclopedia that's name-heavy but subject-light, it's actually an almanac. But it's a good almanac. I found an online list of U.S. Supreme Court justices that I wish I'd had back in college, plus records and links for the U.S. Census Bureau and pretty much all the information you'd find in an almanac.
Compton's Online Encyclopedia
This is on the list because of its name. Otherwise, it's either a shallow site that's good for browsing and doesn't search topics well, or it's so difficult to figure out that I missed how it works. I couldn't find James Beckwourth. It's intriguing that it's not even as good as its CD-ROM version on store shelves. The Web site shouldn't reflect on the CD-ROM version which is a great product for children and produced by the highly respected The Learning Company, a division of Mattel Interactive.
This is a place to go for some information, but it's shallow. I knew it was not going to be terribly wonderful when I saw the most prominent button was a link to Encarta. It didn't list James P. Beckwourth. If you're just browsing, it's not so bad. Type in a search term in the window and it will give a lot of choices that often have nothing to do with what you asked. But the articles, though elementary, are easy reading and might be a good place to look for term-paper ideas.
Go elsewhere. The site is designed to work with the Encarta software. The search engine couldn't find James Beckwourth. But the insult to injury was that it recommended that I try James Backcourt. Eventually, I forced it to look again and it came up with Saint James from the Bible. And while Beckwourth is one of my heroes, he was nobody's saint.
Not quite an encyclopedia, but ...
Library of Congress Internet Resources Pages
This is an Internet researcher's playground. The Library of Congress has reading rooms dedicated to topics. The Electronic Resources page on its Web site has hundreds of Web links categorized by those topics. Each area is not handled equally. Some have information that help to find information in books. Others have Web sites and home pages for the topic. And the site isn't snobbish. Home pages range from Back Street Boys to Beethoven. The Library of Congress home page is http://www.loc.gov/library/ and it's fun to look over before you go on.
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