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Get Background Information

There are a variety of resources to help you find background information. Often called reference works, these resources can also help you determine the keywords to use in your search.

Dictionaries can provide a quick definition and often some elaboration on the uses of unfamiliar terms. When you are doing research on a topic, you will often encounter unfamiliar terms or familiar phrases used in a specialized way.

Dictionaries may be general or cover specific subjects.

Encyclopedias provide the following:

  • an overview of the topic
  • ideas on how to narrow the topic
  • related terms and subjects which might be useful
  • bibliographies or lists of additional reading which will provide further information.

Many encyclopedia summaries can lead you quickly to key ideas and sources. Many encyclopedias include brief bibliographies, and these can help you get started finding books, articles, and Web resources. 

Encyclopedias may be general or cover specific subjects.

Biographical Dictionaries
Some biographical dictionaries simply list essential facts about a person, while other sources present the facts in a narrative form using complete sentences. Some sources include a list of bibliographic references which could be used for finding additional information.

Almanacs contain a miscellany of information including: astronomical and meteorological data; statistics on countries, sports, and many other topics; lists of awards. They are an excellent place to find brief information on events of the recent, and not so recent, past.

Government Information
Government publications are particularly useful for finding statistics and other information on people, industry, natural resources, etc.

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