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Become familiar with the ideas, major concepts and basic vocabulary in your chosen research area. Such background knowledge places your topic in a wider context, deepens your understanding and helps you feel more comfortable with it.
Encyclopedias are a great place to get an overview of a topic that is new to you. Encyclopedias often identify narrower areas within the broad subject, which may suggest a focus for your research. Many encyclopedia article entries also provide a list of references that can help you locate further, more in-depth and scholarly information sources.
Work from general to specific. If a general encyclopedia doesn't provide enough background information, continue your research with focused subject encyclopedias. Wikipedia can be a place to find specific names, dates and events, but use it mainly as a jumping off point. The library has scholarly subject encyclopedias which provide reliable and in depth information.
Subject dictionaries can help define unfamiliar words and specialized terminology when researching a new subject in specific disciplines.
Remember: Encyclopedias are good starting points, but don’t contain ALL the information you'll need on a subject for college level research.
Get started: Look up your keywords in the indexes to subject encyclopedias. Read articles in these encyclopedias to set the context for your research. Note any additional keywords and relevant items in the references at the end of the encyclopedia articles.
U.S. History In Context provides a complete overview of our nation’s past that covers the most-studied events, decades, conflicts, wars, political and cultural movements, and people. Includes over 5,000 primary source documents, reference materials, and journal titles.