Find Background Information for Your Topic

Once you have identified the main topic and keywords for your research, find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and will tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. The most common background sources are encyclopedias and dictionaries from the reference collection. Textbooks and good websites can also provide valuable information.

Once you find your background information, note any useful sources (books, journals, or websites) that you are directed to in that source. In encyclopedias or other reference books, further sources can be found in Bibliographies or "Further Reading" sections at the end of articles. Remember that many of the books and articles you find in the catalog and in databases will also have bibliographies! Check these bibliographies for additional relevant resources for your research.

By routinely using the technique of following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a surprisingly large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short time.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Direct links to our online encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference resources are listed below. These are also accessible via Easley Library's catalog. View Off-Campus Access Instructions. If you are an on-campus student, the library also has print reference books.

A-Z Maps Online is the world's largest subscription-based database of proprietary, royalty-free world, continent, country, and state maps. Included in the 4,000+ maps are: political maps, physical maps, outline maps, population maps, precipitation maps, climate maps, and other thematic maps. New maps are added to the collection every month.

Encyclopedia of Life Science: Spanning the entire spectrum of life sciences, the Encyclopedia of Life Sciences (ELS) features more than 4,300 specially commissioned and peer-reviewed articles. The articles within ELS are written by leaders in the field to provide comprehensive and authoritative coverage of this subject area and are aimed at researchers, students, and teachers alike.

Gale Virtual Reference Library is a database of encyclopedias and specialized reference sources for multidisciplinary research. These reference materials once were accessible only in libraries in print, but now you can access them online from the library or remotely 24/7. Because each library creates its own eBook collection, the content you see may vary if you use the database at different libraries (your school, your public library, or your office).

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Published yearly, this handbook provides information about various professions, such as, training and education needed, earnings, expected job prospects, what workers do on the job, and the working conditions.

Oxford Art Online is a gateway that offers users the ability to access and search the vast content of Grove Art Online and Oxford art reference in one location. With the 2008 complete redesign of Grove Art Online, as well as the addition of substantial new Oxford reference content, Oxford Art Online offers an extensive and easily searchable online art resource.

Oxford English Dictionary: The 22-volume 2nd ed. (definitions, word origins, quotations). 

Oxford Music Online is a gateway that offers users the ability to access and cross-search the vast resources of Oxford's music reference in one location. The cornerstone of Oxford Music Online, Grove Music Online has been completely redesigned with a number of functional enhancements and new content. Includes the contents of Grove Music, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, The Oxford Companion to Music, and The Oxford Dictionary of Music. 

The Statesman Yearbook was conceived of by Thomas Carlyle and brought into being with the help of William Gladstone. Their vision for the book was an authoritative and accessible volume containing information essential for diplomats, politicians, and all statesmen involved with international affairs. It quickly gained recognition as an indispensable reference tool and has been published continuously since 1864, through two world wars, without missing an edition. It was ranked by Library Journal as one of the top 20 best reference resources of the millennium.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States: Published since 1878, is the authoritative and comprehensive summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States. Use the Abstract as a convenient volume for statistical reference and as a guide to sources of more information, both in print and on the Web. Sources of data include the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and many other federal agencies and private organizations.

The World Factbook: Provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 266 world entities.