Finding Background Information
Once you have identified the main topic and keywords for your research, find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. The most common background sources are encyclopedias and dictionaries from the print and online reference collection. Class textbooks also provide background information.
USE ENCYCLOPEDIAS AND DICTIONARIES
- Reference Universe
- Reference Universe is a database you can search to find subject encyclopedias on any topic.
You can also find encyclopedias and dictionaries for specific topics by using
the Cornell's "Classic" Catalog or the new catalog,
by consulting one of our Subject Guides (selected reference sources (online and in print format) on a specific subject),
by checking the General Interest and Reference section of the Database Names "Browse by Subject or Name" section,
using Reference Universe,
or by asking a reference librarian to suggest appropriate titles.
TIP: EXPLOIT BIBLIOGRAPHIES
Read the background information and note any useful sources (books, journals, magazines, etc.) listed in the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article or dictionary entry. The sources cited in the bibliography are good starting points for further research.
Look up these sources in our catalogs and periodical indexes. Check the subject headings listed in the subject field of the online record for these books and articles. Then do subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles.
Remember that many of the books and articles you find will themselves have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional useful resources for your research.
By using this technique of routinely following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a surprisingly large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short time.
Return to the Seven Steps of the Research Process
Return to Guide to Library Research at Cornell
Updated 29 March 2012
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