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ENGL 1102


Before using any library resources, you should have an idea of the topic you want to research.

If you are unfamiliar with the topic assigned to you, use a tertiary source to get an overview of the topic - this could be an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia, or a library resource like those listed below. These sources can offer an overview of the topic, names, institutions, major events or issues associated with it, and sometimes research questions posed by scholars in the field.

Once you determine what interests you most about the topic, formulating a research question can guide your library research process.

Tertiary sources for background research

Tertiary sources compile, summarize, index, or help identify scholarly sources on a topic. They are useful for background research or to get an overview of a topic before delving into secondary or primary sources. Common tertiary sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, and other reference sources. Below are some best bets, but you can also search the library catalog for books that give an overview of your topic of interest.

Research questions

Once you are familiar with the topic and some of its major issues, it is helpful to have a research question to guide your search process. This will help you search more efficiently and save you the trouble of wading through thousands or even millions of search results. For example:

Inverted triangle in three parts. Top part says Topic: Cars. Middle part says Narrower Topic: Self-driving cars. Bottom part says Research Question: Are self-driving cars safer than those driven by people?

 “Developing a Research Question,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0

  • Doing a library search for the broad topic cars will bring back millions of hits.
  • Narrowing your search to self-driving cars will bring back thousands of hits.
  • The research question "Are self-driving cars safer than those driven by people?" contains three concepts: self-driving cars, safety, and people.
    • Combining self-driving carssafety, and human factors in one search will bring back a more manageable set of hits.
  • Brainstorming synonyms and terms related to those concepts will help you build your search.
  • See the Scholarly Sources tab to learn how to combine concepts when searching library databases.