Scholarly research is about building on the ideas and research of others and integrating these ideas with your own. Before you can begin writing - or even researching in earnest - you must take time to review your topic and information related to it.
Taking time to do background research has many benefits:
As you look at background information sources, consider questions related to your topic - what do you need to know in order to write knowledgeably on this topic?
Questions can help you narrow your focus and help you identify the information sources you might want to seek out.
You can then turn to reference sources -- dictionaries, encyclopedias, and books written for a general audience -- to start to answer these questions.
Reference information sources can be helpful when beginning the research process. They can give you a working knowledge of your chosen subject area. They allow you to:
The Library has access to hundreds of reference sources, both in print and online. You can access the online titles in the A-Z List of Databases here.
There are also some reference sources freely available on the Web (such as Wikipedia). Just be sure to evaluate these the way you would any other source before basing your research on them.
There are many different kinds of reference information sources, and each is useful for finding a certain type of information.
You do not normally cite reference materials, such as dictionaries or encyclopedias, or textbooks, because they do not contain original research. They are what are called tertiary sources (more on that later), which means they are typically a condensed version of multiple secondary sources, usually aimed at non-scholarly audiences.
Material in this section is adapted from the Research Skills Tutorial by the Librarians at Empire State College has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Online reference sources are usually made up of articles from academic dictionaries and encyclopedias. Start at the reference database page to find different library sources. Here are a couple of options to help you get started: