Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How to write for an encyclopedia or other reference work

From time to time, many of us will have the opportunity to write for a reference work like an encyclopedia or a handbook. The word encyclopedia has been around for a couple of thousand years and comes from the Greek term for general education. Encyclopedias as general reference books came about in the eighteenth century and the most ubiquitous when I was a student was the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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On writing: nine quotes from classic authors

You’ve gotten through the first week of National Novel Writing Month. Have you’ve been hitting your word count? Writing 1,665 words every day may not sound like a lot, but sitting down in front of a blank page each day begins to feel like a struggle. Find some inspiration from these Oxford World’s Classics authors!

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The plot thins

In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, the heroine teaches in Edinburgh in the 1930s. She has a special set of favourites amongst her pupils, loves one-armed Roman Catholic art teacher and WW1 veteran Teddy Lloyd, and sympathises with Mussolini. A member of her set, Sandy, eventually sleeps with Lloyd and then becomes a nun, writing a book called The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.

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Crime and punishment, and the spirit of St Petersburg

Crime and Punishment is a story of a murder and morality that draws deeply on Dostoevsky’s personal experiences as a prisoner. It contrasts criminality with conscience, nihilism with consequences, and examines the lengths to which people will go to retain a sense of liberty. One of the factors that brought all these things together was the novel’s setting, around the Haymarket in St Petersburg, where the grandeur of the imperial capital gives way to poverty, squalor, and vice.

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What’s going on in the shadows? A visual arts timeline

Although cast shadows lurk almost everywhere in the visual arts, they often slip by audiences unnoticed. That’s unfortunate, since every shadow tells a story. Whether painted, filmed, photographed, or generated in real time, shadows provide vital information that makes a representation engaging to the eye. Shadows speak about the shape, volume, location, and texture of objects, as well as about the source of light, the time of day or season, the quality of the atmosphere, and so on.

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Celtic goddesses to inspire writers [slideshow]

In Greek Mythology, the muses were called upon by artists and musicians to guide and inspire their work. This National Novel Writing Month, we’ve traveled to the Celtic isles to call upon some lesser known goddesses to help inspire different genres and tropes you may wish to put to paper. Referencing Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes, we’ve pulled together a list of five Celtic goddesses for writers.

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Fake facts and favourite sayings

When the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was first published in 1941, it all seemed so simple. It was taken for granted that a quotation was a familiar line from a great poet or a famous figure in history, and the source could easily be found in standard literary works or history books. Those early compilers of quotations did not think of fake facts and the internet. “Fake facts”, or perhaps more accurately misunderstandings, have been around in the world of quotations for a long time.

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A Q&A with art historian Janet Wolff on memoir writing

Janet Wolff is a renowned art historian and writer. A combination of memoir, family history, and cultural criticism, Janet Wolff’s Austerity Baby is more than just your typical memoir; touching on themes of exile, displacement, and mortality – all of which remain relevant today. In this interview, Wolff recounts her inspiration, process, and family discoveries during her writing and research.

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The importance of physics for humanists and historians

If you studied history, sociology, or English literature in your post-secondary education, it was probably in part because physics was too hard to understand or not as interesting. If you did not pay attention to quiet developments in the world of physics over the past several decades, you missed some very interesting important discoveries. Today, physics is not what our parents or even any of us who went to high school or university in the last quarter of the twentieth century learned because the physicists have been busy learning a lot of new things.

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Shakespeare, Sinatra, and the Philosophy of Aging [excerpt]

Aging in the world of entertainment is portrayed in a variety of ways. In some cases it’s graceful and elegant; in others it’s manic and doddering. Shakespeare has dealt with this subject numerous times with vast reinterpretations in productions through the centuries. In this excerpt from Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Wrinkles, Romance, and Regret, authors Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore look at the classic example of King Lear, and how different portrayals of this elderly character can be a reflection of how people see aging and infirmity in modern times.

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Apparitions in the archives: haunted libraries in the UK

This Halloween we turn our sights to the phantoms haunting the libraries and private collections of Britain. From a headless ghost, to numerous abnormalities surrounding a vast collection of magical literature from a late ghost hunter, here are some stories around apparitions that have been glimpsed among the stacks – you can choose whether or not you believe them to be true….

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Doing the right thing: ethics in the Zombie Apocalypse [video]

From popular television shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to countless films, video games, and comics, stories of the Zombie Apocalypse have captivated modern audiences. With horror and fascination, we watch, read, and imagine the decimation of human society as we know it at the hands of the undead.

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Are we all living in the Anthropocene?

In 2000, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer published a short but enormously influential article in Global Change Newsletter. In it, they proposed the adoption of a brand new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument: humans have had and will continue to have a drastic impact on the planet’s climate, biodiversity, and other elements of the Earth system, and the term “Anthropocene” – from the Greek anthropos, or “human” – most accurately describes this grim new reality.

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When rivers die – and are reborn

Most of the great cities of the world were built on rivers, for rivers have provided the water, the agricultural fertility, and the transport links essential for most great civilizations. This presents a series of puzzles. Why have the people who depend on those rivers so often poisoned their own water sources? How much pollution is enough to kill a river? And what is needed to bring one back to life?

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