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Reference encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesauri remain some of the most valuable, tools that aid in the completion of student research projects. While libraries will undoubtedly continue to display the print editions of these resources, companies continue to develop new annual versions of reference software, new editions of trusted favorites on CD-ROM, and subject-specific reference software with more enhanced features than the print incarnations. Electronic reference resources may also behoove students who wish to conduct research from the comfort of their own homes, as opposed to going to the library, where the checkout of most reference materials is prohibited. This month's Focus On presents the electronic versions of many reference industry favorites.

Both students and parents can benefit from the installation of a computerized dictionary and thesaurus on their PCs. Merriam-Webster offers two products in one: the complete Collegiate Dictionary and Collegiate Thesaurus in a fully searchable electronic format. The package is available in both an electronic edition and a deluxe audio edition. The content includes more than 215,000 definitions, over 340,000 synonyms and related words, 1,000 color illustrations designed to expand understanding, and audio pronunciations that improve verbal communication (offered on the deluxe audio edition). Twenty-one search options are available, including a spelling search that enables users to locate words according to how they sound, an advanced Boolean search, and a wildcard search to answer complex questions. A Go Online menu links users to a vast array of Web-based resources, and a bookmarking feature saves and retrieves entries for future reference. The program installs easily onto a hard drive, eliminating the need to insert the CD-ROM when looking for a word. It is also instantly accessible anytime, even from other programs.

In addition to a multimedia electronic encyclopedia, World Book offers users the opportunity to subscribe for a year to their online service, which provides access to World Book's online Research Helper, Back in Time articles, clicks to related Web sites, and the Behind the Headlines news research tool. World Book 2001 offers a Mac edition, as well as a deluxe, premium and standard edition for Windows. Every article from the print version is available, plus thousands of articles not contained in the print set. Additional features include pictures, sound clips, 360-degree panoramas, maps, a highlighter tool, sticky notes, a distance calculator, a surf the millennium feature, and a free one-year subscription to World Book Online. Users may also find the Report Wizard, Timeline Wizard, Chart Wizard, Quiz Wizard and Web Page Wizard very helpful when conducting research.

Another trusted encyclopedia publishing company offers a deluxe CD-ROM version that incorporates customized tools and a redesigned user interface with rich content. The Britannica CD 2001 Deluxe Edition includes the complete text from the Britannica 32-volume print set, plus articles that are unavailable in print. The content of the 2000 Britannica Book of the Year is also included. More than 8,500 photos, maps and illustrations are featured, as well as the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition. Direct access to, Britannica's Web navigation information service, is possible with the Deluxe Edition.

Package features include an Ask Britannica tool, and a search engine that recognizes words, phrases or questions. A Compass provides an interactive view of the world, from a global to a local view. Timelines examine the effects of people, events and discoveries on world culture, from 14 categories, such as music, sports and technology. The Analyst tool allows users to customize reports, graphs and tables comparing data between nations and regions. The Context Bar keeps searches focused on exactly what the user is looking for, highlighting features where there is related information. …