Better Understand 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.

Gale Virtual Reference Library

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 English Dictionary

The 22-volume 2nd ed. (definitions, word origins, quotations).


Oxford Music Online

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 World Factbook

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