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SOCY 122: Introduction to Academic Library Research

Course guide library research tutorial

Finding Background Information and Developing Your Topic

Once you have identified your topic:

  • State the topic in the form of a specific statement or question.
  • Identify the main concepts, terms and keywords that describe your topic.
  • Start making a list of words to describe your topic.

Specialized encyclopedias and other reference materials such as dictionaries and handbooks are useful for obtaining background information on a topic, in addition to helping you focus your topic and identify the main concepts, terms and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the keywords used when searching various resources (such as the Library catalogue, article indexes and databases) for books and articles.

Recommended Encyclopedias

The Sociology Subject Guide contains a section on recommended Encyclopedias and Dictionaries, available in print and/or online, including the following resources which are particularly useful for your coursework in SOCY 122:

A Note about Wikipedia

With well over a million entries, chances are if you've searched the web for a topic you've come across links to Wikipedia near the top of your search results list. Unlike specialized encyclopedias such as The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology or the larger Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, whose entries are written by noted experts in their particular field of sociology, Wikipedia is a collaborative effort with articles written by individuals from around the world using wiki software that allows content to be added or changed by anyone. Authors of articles may not necessarily be experts on the topics they write about, potentially leaving room for errors, misinformation, and bias.

There is an important concern to take into account when using Wikipedia: Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity. Because anyone can add or change content, there is an inherent lack of reliability and stability to Wikipedia.  For more information, refer to Wikipedia's page on Researching with Wikipedia. For these reasons, Wikipedia is not a reliable resource for background information for a university level research paper.