Some implications of "digital" for scholarly writing and publishing

Category: reference publishing Page 1 of 2

When was the first public library?

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Imagine the Roman soldiers with their tunics coming to borrow the latest Latin novel [Photo by Pauline Andan on Unsplash]

In the murky early history of libraries, there are several claims that the first public library was established in the ancient Roman Empire. Trying …

The London Encyclopaedia

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I picked up a copy of this successful reference book in a charity shop for £3.50. It was the first edition, from 1983 and there have been at least two subsequent editions, but the concept and coverage are unlikely to have …

How to use Pevsner’s Buildings of England

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Lincoln Cathedral, crossing tower

What is a reference work for?  Below I give some examples of reference works that I think have lost sight of their original function over the years.

Wikipedia gives a good definition of a reference work:


How to write a reference article

Reading Time: 5 minutes
From the Oxford Classical Dictionary

As in many areas of corporate activity, best practice in publishing seems to suffer from amnesia. Good principles are established in one generation, then, for no apparent reason, lost. Publishers come and go, and perhaps new …

How to write an encyclopedia entry

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Pyrrho (Munich, Glypothek)

The basic principles of an encyclopedia article haven’t changed over time – but the same errors continue to be made. One of the most fundamental principles, which is the same as writing a dictionary entry for a concept, …

How to read a wine label

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Is this wine any good or not?

It seems a simple idea – to read the label on a bottle of wine and to understand what the bottle contains (and if it’s worth drinking). The reality is quite the opposite. Wine …

Should scholarly publishing be more like Wikipedia?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Not a day passes without someone suggesting a way to reduce the inefficiency of the scholarly publication cycle. There is an interesting article in Scholarly Kitchen by Tim Vines, about Michael Eisen, the new Editor-in-Chief of eLife, suggesting ideas for the …

The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (1977)

Reading Time: 3 minutesThat word “modern”, of course, always raises problems. As soon as you label a book as “modern” it appears outdated very quickly. So the Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, first published 1977, now looks very dated. Nonetheless, a title that …

Will Wikipedia ever get their facts right?

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Editing Wikipedia appears to some (including me) to be an endless road – it goes on and on, and is never concluded. And that doesn’t mean it gets better – even when highly experienced Wikipedia editors are on the case. Here …

Tom McArthur, Worlds of Reference (1986)

Reading Time: 4 minutesTom McArthur’s book is essential reading in the world of reference, although perhaps that is faint praise for a subject that has so few books dedicated to it. However, reading the book is tough going. The author makes it difficult for …

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