Background Information (Reference Works)
Quite often when doing research you will come across concepts, theories, names, and
terms that are new and unfamiliar. Reference works are good sources for becoming familiar
with the unfamiliar. In addition to our many print volumes, the Library has a varied
collection of reference works online. You will find a link to these on the library
Some professions using very specific terminology will have dictionaries of their own
such as Black's Medical Dictionary and Black's Law Dictionary. Some academic disciplines have dictionaries as well, for example, A Dictionary of Sociology.
In addition to the more familiar general encyclopedias, like the Encyclopedia Americana, the library has many subject specific encyclopedias. These usually contain much
longer and more in-depth essays. Some examples of these at the library include:
For all its faults and limitations Wikipedia can be a good source of background information.
Some articles may be quite long, provide a useful bibliography, and include extensive
citations. The entry on Max Weber is a good example. Wikipedia excels at covering pop culture. You will find long multi-page
entries for pop culture franchise like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Naruto, as well as entries for one-hit wonders like the singing group The Contours and obscure no-hit bands like Ednaswap.
Literature Review Resources
One of the first step when preparing a research project is the review of existing
literature. There are two good sources for these in handbooks and literature review
articles. In addition to reviewing the current state of research on a topic these
essays will also include extensive lists of references and often highlight questions
needing more research.
Handbooks are collections of review essays on a topic. For example, The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation contains over thirty review essays on specific topics, like ego depletion and curiosity,
within the broader topic of motivation. You can search for these in the Library catalog
by simply adding 'and handbook' to your search. For example, to search for handbooks
on ADHD, enter the search terms ADHD and handbook. (Note: you may find it helpful to limit your results to books.)
Academic journals will often publish literature review articles. You can search for
these in the library catalog by adding 'and review' to your search and limiting your
results to academic journal articles. A search for ADHD and review returns over 6,000 articles with titles like Psychodynamic Psychotherapy of ADHD: A Review of the Literature. (Note: searching this way will also return book reviews.)
The OneSearch tool on the library homepage searches most of the library's databases.
It is the right tool for most searches. There are times when you will want to search
only in a specific database because they have additional search features or they are
not included in OneSearch.You can find a list of the libraries databases on the library
website under the Articles or Research Guides tabs. Here are a couple of examples:
- PsycINFO is a psychology specific database that includes additional search features
that allow you to search for specific population groups (female, outpatient, over
65 years of age).
- Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) is a repository
of research data sets such as the Americans' Use of Time Series. It contains no articles
at all, just the raw data.
Using Citations to Find Items
When doing research you will find references to books and articles that you will want
to read. There are several methods you can use to locate these items. If you don't
find the item with your first search, try using a different method. Sometimes there
are errors in the citation or quirks in the search engines that hide the item. If
you don't find the item ask a librarian for help or request the item through interlibrary
- To see if the Library has the item you can search for the articles title. You may
also try searching for the articles author.
- Journals by Title
- You can also see if the Library has access to the journal by searching for the journal
title using the Journals by Title link on the Library website.
- If you don't find the item at the library try searching for it using Google. Sometimes
journals post articles on the web and allow you to download them for free.
- Google Scholar
- An extra, nifty feature from Google is their Scholar search. When you find an important
article, search for it in Google Scholar. After the entry for the item you will see
a link 'cited by' followed by a number. That is the number of items that have cited
the article. This is a helpful clue to the importance of the article. Following that
link will list all of those items. This is a great tool for tracing the path of research
In addition to scholarly sources, you will often find yourself needing data for your
research. A great number of public and private agencies now make their data publicly
available on the internet.
The US Federal government is the champion data collector. Every federal agency collects
data and most of it is placed on the web. A few examples of good sources of data include;
the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Like the federal government, the state governments collect and publish data. The State
of Utah has collected all of its data sources in a single webpage, www.utah.gov/data/.
Some research centers also publish their findings on the web. Generally these centers
have a public policy interest. A couple of examples are the Pew Research Center which tracks demographic and public opinion trends, and the Guttmacher Institute which promotes reproductive health.
Finally, there are other sources of data that don't fit into these neat categories.these
sources can be found with a modest amount of effort with your favorite web search
tool. A new trend in research is visualizing data. A couple of fun examples of this
are Gapminder and Google Ngrams.