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QS 212: Primary Texts

Hints to Find Background Information

Finding entries on your assigned topic

  1. A good place to start searching for your topic is a general encyclopedia.  For example, you can use the box below to begin your search using the Encyclopedia Britannica:



  1. Based on the background information that you read in a general encyclopedia, determine what general subject areas cover your topic (such as religion, literature, psychology, history, etc.). The menu to the left includes relevant subject areas to the topics you are researching. Upon clicking on one of the subjects, you will find a series of subject specific reference books that cover topics for this assignment.  Each book has a call number that either includes:
    1. REF as a prefix: meaning it is found on the second floor of the library
    2. no prefix: meaning it is found on the third floor of the library
    3. Online: meaning it is held in the library's online collection and can be accessed by clicking on the title
  2. As you learn more, you might notice alternative spellings or phrases used for your topic.  When you can't find your topic in a reference book that should include the topic, try one of these alternative spellings.  Some reference books will list your term followed by the word SEE [term].  In these cases, the editor is telling you to go to the entry for the other term to learn more about the topic you are researching.
  3. If a reference work covers a very narrow topic, you might not need to search all of the exact topic phrase you were given  For instance, if you are looking at a reference book on Greek culture, it might not use the phrase Greek chorus, but instead just chorus.  

How to expand your search

Not only do reference resources provide background information, they also provide clues to finding additional resources on your topic. Here are some ways that you can use a reference entry to find additional resources:

  1. Within many reference work entries, you will see words that are bolded, colored, or are in small caps. These font changes often indicate a related entry in the book that would be worth checking out to provide more context.  
  2. Some reference works include a SEE ALSO section at the end of many entries.  These related entries could be worth exploring to provide additional background information.
  3. When a contributor or author is listed for an entry, this is an indication that the person has studied or written extensively on the topic.  Online reference resources might provide a link with the contributor's background and major works.  When a list isn't available, consider conducting a search for the author's name in the library catalog or databases.
  4. An entry might include a work cited, additional reading list, or bibliography section.  You can use the library catalog or the find a journal tool to determine if you have access to the resources.  If the books or articles aren't held locally, consider requesting them using interlibrary loan.