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Get Started With Research

Use this guide to become a more skillful researcher. Learn how to develop research questions, choose credible sources, evaluate your sources, cite them correctly, and avoid plagiarism

The Joy of Encyclopedias

If your instructor has told you that you can't use encyclopedias be sure to question that limitation to make sure he or she meant to restrict your use of scholarly subject encyclopedias. 

Because subject encyclopedias, like the one shown above, are a great resource for finding background information. You could think of them as books filled with detailed articles written by scholars in various disciplines that are like well-written research papers.  They are not your average general encyclopedia, like World Book, that has brief articles on a wide variety of subjects. 

Subject encyclopedias are:

  • Highly reliable
  • Cover topics in detail
  • Include articles signed by the scholar authors
  • Have helpful bibliographies
  • Are brief enough so as not to be overwhelming

Finding Background Information

Doing some background reading at the beginning of your research helps you to understand your topic right from the start. You'll be able to put your topic in context and create research questions that drive your search for information.  In addition, when you begin hunting and gathering information, you’ll know if what you’re finding is relevant and useful.

You need to begin understanding your topic early in order to know:

  1. What information you need to find
  2. Whether or not what you are finding is relevant
  3. What search terms will lead to successful searches
  4. What information is reliable

You don't even have to read a lot of complete books to get this valuable background information. Reference books, like encyclopedias and dictionaries, are a wonderful place to start your research.

Using Library Databases

The MJC Library subscribes to several online databases that are great for finding background information.

Best Bets Databases:

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