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Intro to Library Research: Get a Topic Overview

This guide is a starting point for doing research at Wardman Library, finding and evaluating scholarly resources, and getting additional writing help.

Find Background Information

It is a good idea to develop a small foundation of subject knowledge before taking a deep dive into research. Finding background information on your topic will also help you to develop keywords that will be useful later in the research process. In addition to the online resources listed below, check:

  • your required course readings
  • general encyclopedias
  • subject-specific encyclopedias
  • introductory texts (e.g. textbooks)

As you review these sources, keep a list of the key ideas and technical terms that the authors frequently use to discuss your topic.

Recommended Online Resources

Using Wikipedia for Academic Research

Click on the video below to begin the tutorial. (text version | more info)

What is a Reference Work?

Cover of Encyclopedia of Pestilence"Reference works" is an overall term for resources that take an introductory approach to a particular subject and are meant to be consulted for definite items of information (rather than being read consecutively like you would read a novel). These generally include encyclopedias, introductory texts, dictionaries, atlases, almanacs, handbooks, biographical sources, and indexes. Reference works are usually written by scholars and contain the essential information you ought to know before beginning more detailed research.

Most of the print reference works are located on the first floor of Wardman Library, but some can also be found on the second and third floor, as well as online through resources like GVRL and Biography in Context (see "Recommended Online Resources" to the left).

Note: The term "reference works" is also sometimes used to refer to items that cannot be checked out from the library.

Find Reference Works via the Library Catalog - Method 1

1. To find reference works (both print and eBooks) in the library catalog, go to and select "Advanced Search."

screenshot of catalog homepage

2. Enter your search term(s) in the text fields at the top of the page. Under "Location" select "Reference Collection" and then press "Submit."

screenshot of advanced search page

Find Reference Works via the Library Catalog - Method 2

1. Just like above, go to and select "Advanced Search."

2. In the first text box, enter a general subject term that relates to your topic, e.g. "disease", "biology", "climate change", or "civil war".

3. In the second text box, type "encyclopedias" and then press "Submit."