Encyclopædia Britannica

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The Encyclopædia Britannica (Latin for "British Encyclopaedia") is a general English-language encyclopaedia published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., a privately held company. The articles in the Britannica are aimed at educated adult readers, and written by a staff of about 100 full-time editors and over 4,000 expert contributors. It is widely regarded as the most scholarly of encyclopaedias.[1] It is now an online encyclopedia, with the 2010 version of the 15th edition stated to have been the last printed edition.


The Britannica is the oldest English-language encyclopaedia still in print.[2] It was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland and quickly grew in popularity and size, with its third edition in 1801 reaching over 21 volumes.[3] Its rising stature helped in recruiting eminent contributors, and the 9th edition (1875–1889) and the 11th edition (1911) are regarded as landmark encyclopaedias for scholarship and literary style.[3] Beginning with the 11th edition, the Britannica gradually shortened and simplified its articles in order to broaden its North American market.[3] In 1933, the Britannica became the first encyclopaedia to adopt a "continuous revision" policy, in which the encyclopaedia is continually reprinted and every article is updated on a regular schedule.

The 15th edition has a unique three-part structure: a 12-volume Micropædia of short articles (generally having fewer than 750 words), a 17-volume Macropædia of long articles (having from two to 310 pages) and a single Propædia volume intended to give a hierarchical outline of human knowledge. The Micropædia is meant for quick fact-checking and as a guide to the Macropædia; readers are advised to study the Propædia outline to understand a subject's context and to find other, more detailed articles.[4] The size of the Britannica has remained roughly constant over the past 70 years, with about 40 million words on half a million topics.[5] Although publication has been based in the United States since 1901, the Britannica has maintained its traditional British spelling.[1]

Over the course of its history, the Britannica has had difficulty remaining profitable—a problem faced by many encyclopaedias.[2] Some articles in certain earlier editions of the Britannica have been criticised for inaccuracy, bias or unqualified contributors.[3] The accuracy in parts of the present edition has likewise been questioned,[1] although such criticisms have been challenged by the Britannica's management. Despite these criticisms, the Britannica retains its reputation as a reliable research tool.

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  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kister, KF (1994). Kister's Best Encyclopedias: A Comparative Guide to General and Specialized Encyclopedias, 2nd ed., Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press. ISBN 0897747445. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Encyclopedias and Dictionaries". Encyclopædia Britannica. 18 (15th edition ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. 2007. pp. 257–286. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Kogan, Herman (1958). The Great EB: The Story of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 
  4. (2007) The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, Propædia, 5–8. 
  5. (2007) The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, Index preface.