Reference Tools : Researching Your Topic

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Reference Tools :

A really thorough research process begins with consulting reference tools - general encyclopedias, specialized encyclopedias and other kinds of reference tools that may be particular to your topic's own field. Whether you access these reference tools as bound volumes in the library or you access them on the Web, an important early part of any thorough research process is learning what sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica ( say about your topic or about the subject heading that is closest to your topic. Start with general encyclopedias, then go to specialized encyclopedias and/or dictionaries (there's a great list of online encyclopedias and dictionaries at and then in the library go to your field's entry in Balay's Guide to Reference Books to discover what other specialized reference tools there are for you to consult.

Starting your research by consulting general reference tools and then moving on to specialized ones gives your research paper a kind of background depth and texture that is hard to come by any other way. Researchers who start by diving right into the Web or the library catalog often write papers that, by comparison, are much more shallow. Often it is the information on the periphery of a subject-potential questions about the real economics of recycling, for instance, or about the history and au┬Čthenticity of Gentileschi's paintings-that makes for the most interesting research papers. Students who dive right into the middle of their topics may miss these potentially rich shadings of their topics entirely.

To continue the section on Make a Research Outline...,

1. Moving From Keywords to A Subject Search

2. Reference Tools

3. Subject Trees

4. The Library Catalog

5. Search Engines

6. Indexes and Databases

7. Databases and Archives

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