Encyclopedia: what it is, meaning, characteristics, types of encyclopedia, parts and more


What is the encyclopedia subgenre?

It is a type of work that is part of the subgenres of the didactic genre given its function, since it includes content aimed at learning and knowledge, gathering a wide variety of topics in alphabetical order, with universal information or focused on a specific field. In addition, one or more authors may participate in its writing.

Nowadays we can find different types of encyclopedias that have been in charge of compiling a great amount of information on fields of interest, among which we can find areas such as economy, art, architecture, among many others.

Meaning of the subgenre encyclopedia

The term comes from the Latin word encyclopaedia, which refers to a collection or compendium of knowledge. Hence the term is used to refer to a work in which a large amount of information on a particular field or at a general level is compiled. The Greeks also used the term to refer to books that were used for the education of children, in which they included a series of knowledge of fields within the humanities, arts and sciences.

Definition of the encyclopedia subgenre

We can define the encyclopedia as a type of text that comprises a set of knowledge, thus condensing knowledge in an organized way in the traditional format of the book. However, with the passage of time its content has moved to other formats such as Internet and CD versions.

Definition of the encyclopedia subgenre

What is the function of the encyclopedia?

The purpose of this type of text is to compile the information proposed in order to provide specific or universal knowledge, so that its content can reach several volumes. The information contained therein may be organized according to an alphabetical order, thematic divisions, etc.

The intention of the encyclopedia was born in the Contemporary Age with the purpose of combating obscurantism, for which it began to organize the information obtained until then, in a reliable compendium that would allow the transmission of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, taking into account that obscurantism was a practice aimed at hindering the dissemination of knowledge to the community, in such a way that they tried to prevent it from reaching the population.

History and origin of the encyclopedia

It is considered that the origin of the encyclopedia would be located in Sumer, fourth millennium B.C., with a thematic glossary that was conceived as a first text with which it is tried to order all the knowledge of the world obtained until then. In this sense, some time later, more texts appeared that began to evidence a conventional order. In addition to Sumer, Egypt also began this activity with thematic lists, especially the so-called Onomastics of the Ramesseum, which dates from 1750 BC.

Later, around the year 1100, another text appears with 610 organized elements, whose intention was to form a kind of systematic catalog about the universe, something like a form of instruction for people from the knowledge achieved about the organization of the world.

Characteristics of the encyclopedia subgenre

These are the most important characteristics of the encyclopedia as a didactic subgenre:

Content: the content of the encyclopedia depends on the specialization to which it is focused, from there derive the types of encyclopedia that exist. Thus, its content can be focused on knowledge about health, history, social sciences, mathematics, arts, language, anatomy, natural sciences, etc.

Format of the content: in general, it can present in a summarized form different topics of diverse contents. However, it seeks to cover the greatest amount of useful information necessary to be able to offer concrete answers to the queries of those who consult it.

Type of audience: an essential aspect of the encyclopedia is that the subject matter of its content can be of universal interest, due to the variety of topics it stores. Thus, they can be attractive to anyone and solve a variety of concerns, although they can be directed to a specific type of audience, especially when it comes to encyclopedias with specific content in a field.

Organization: another of the most important characteristics of the encyclopedia has to do with the way in which the information it contains is arranged. In this case, the encyclopedia can be divided in different ways, such as separation by subject, separation by alphabetical order, division of the volumes according to the subject they focus on, etc. Each of them contains an index through which the reader can follow and be guided to explore its contents.

Cultural importance: it is important to highlight that due to the content of an encyclopedia, they have consolidated an important place in culture, since they contain part or all of the known history, as well as other essential knowledge that has emerged over time for a specific discipline, activity or sector, so that they become a source of inspiration for many areas.

Need for updating: with the passage of time, specialized research and other factors, influence the knowledge that is obtained, so that it is necessary to have updates to keep abreast of the information that is followed and resolves to renew the information. This also has to do with maintaining the content over time, which has greatly facilitated the digital format.

Differences with the dictionary: the dictionary is another of the didactic subgenres, of which you can also find a complete section in our literature section. It differs from the encyclopedia in the extent to which the information is presented, because unlike the dictionary, the encyclopedia seeks to respond broadly to any concern of the individual in a given area, while the dictionary focuses on a specific and short explanation.

Parts of the encyclopedia subgenre

The content of an encyclopedia is organized as follows:

Title page: since the encyclopedia maintains the same format as a book, it has a title page in which the title or type of encyclopedia is presented, including the name of the author or authors, the publishing house, and some even already show the subjects to be covered inside it.

Main page: this page presents a series of information about the specialty and origin of the encyclopedia. It contains the number of volumes that exist of the work, the publishing house, the year it was published, the editor, among others.

Index: this section serves to guide the reader and consultant to the content, since it allows him to see on which pages the field he is looking for is found or the section where he can find answers to his query, so he will go to the information he needs directly.

Graphics: in this type of content it is possible to find graphics such as statistics, maps, images and other types of graphics that illustrate the content according to the field you are focusing on. Much of the information requires the accompaniment of images that illustrate it, so the encyclopedia incorporates graphics and places the annexes section, which can also appear in the bibliography.

Subtopics: it is a type of extensive article that explains in detail and completely a specific topic. It may be divided into sections that provide separate answers and facilitate the understanding of a certain aspect.

Glossary: because of the encyclopedia’s focus on a specific topic, it does not usually focus intensely on the meaning of important or key words within the content, therefore, the author may add a section for a glossary, in which the information on the terms is expanded. Key words are different from guide words, where the former concentrate on granting a meaning, while the latter allow to locate more quickly the information sought with this particular term.

Bibliography: this is the reference area located at the end of the text with the intention of mentioning all the material used to consolidate the information gathered in the encyclopedia. In the case of research topics, as well as for the encyclopedia itself, the bibliography is an essential aspect that must be present in the work. On the other hand, the bibliography will also be of interest to the person who consults it, so that he/she can refer to the cited content to go deeper into his/her topic of consultation, etc.

Some authors decide to include, within the encyclopedia, the yearbooks. These are summarized information about the most relevant topics that have occurred in the year in which the work is published, so that the author can have at hand some current issues or reference about what is happening at a certain time and place.

Types of the encyclopedia subgenre

Types of the encyclopedia subgenre

As we mentioned, according to the specialty of the text or the sector it focuses on, different types of encyclopedias may appear, hence the following types are found:

Didactic encyclopedia

These are encyclopedias used for the education of children in the first years of life, so that their content is based on basic and elementary subjects in order to later follow the educational process in more complex areas. Thus, they can gather basic information in areas such as social sciences, mathematics, literature and art, as well as anatomy, sexual education, safety, environmental education, etc.

Medical encyclopedia

In this case, the encyclopedia contains all kinds of information, concepts and research of a scientific nature specialized in the medical field. Thus, it may include information about the anatomical composition of the body, conditions, injuries, diseases and all kinds of information related to the area of physical and psychological health.

Legal encyclopedia

It is a type of text directed to the field of law, so it includes content in which information related to legal concepts is covered, some of them are focused on the introduction to law, so they contain a great variety of elements necessary for the formation of the student or the person interested in the area.

Virtual Encyclopedia

As its name indicates, it is a type of encyclopedia that we can consult on the Internet, its approaches and topics can also be very varied. In addition, its format makes it much easier to update the information it contains. They can also be known as digital encyclopedias that can be consulted on compact discs.

Authors and most important works of the encyclopedia subgenre

One of the most important works, being the most modern notion of this type of texts and widely distributed was the Cyclopaedia, published in 1728 by the encyclopedist Ephraim Chambers. Later other encyclopedists appeared, among them Denis Diderot, inspired by the work of Chambers. The compilation of this knowledge attracted even more the attention of other writers who also wanted to gather this information, especially to go against the obscurantism of established authorities such as religion and politics, where other names such as Voltaire and D’Alembert appear.

As time went by, other authors of similar content also appeared, such as Plato, Aristotle, Varron, among others, who began to gather treatises and knowledge in a series of compendiums.