3.5 Finding background information

Use reference material to find background information and basic readings on the topic. Reference material like dictionaries and encyclopaedias may be used to

  • define or clarify terminology
  • obtain an overview of theoretical area, and
  • locate key readings on a specific topic.

Reference material should be regarded as a starting point, rather than the only source for research material. Increasingly, you will find these resources available online. They are all listed in the Online Catalogue, in the Subject guides or under the link to Databases and Electronic Resources.

With any material you locate, be it print or electronic, always remember to evaluate it! Be cautious about using resources such as Wikipedia and Google. These popular, non-refereed resources often contain articles of poor scholarship and are not authoritative. Here is a checklist to evaluate a source:

  • Check the author's credentials and affiliation. Is the author an expert in the field?
  • Do they use scholarly methods, acknowledge sources and provide bibliographies?
  • Are the sources of information stated? Can you verify the information?
  • Who is the target audience? Obviously you don?t want material designed for school students.
  • Is the information reliable?
  • Does it contain organisational or author biases?
  • Is the information current to your specific topic?

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