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Searching for background information
Without knowing a significant amount about a topic, it is hard to work with it. Background sources - mainly reference works that can be found in the reference section of the library or online - can quickly provide a great deal of information on many topics. Keep these hints in mind to make your searching super-efficient.
Where to look... How to look...
General encyclopedias
Encyclopedia Britannica
General encyclopedias cover a wide range of topics, but none in great depth. They are useful for overviews but are often unsuitable for scholarly research.
 
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Subject-specific encyclopedias
American Medical Association Complete Medical Encyclopedia
Subject specific encyclopedias cover particular disciplines or topics such as history or terrorism and usually provide more information about a topic than a general encyclopedia would. Articles are usually written by scholars and often include bibliographies.
 
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Almanacs
Almanacs provide quick access to large amounts of factual and statistical information in a more concise format than an encyclopedia. Many almanacs are updated annually to provide current information, so recent editions can be used for current information while older editions can be used for older information.
 
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Biographical Information
Biographical Encyclopedia Of Artists
Biographical information is pivotal to projects that require information about someone's life. It's also a speedy way identify topics for further research. Many biographical tools are specific to a particular group or field of study, and these resources are likely to provide more detail than general biographical sources.
 
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Books
Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy
Monographs often provide broad overviews of topics. These overviews are frequently much more comprehensive than anything you can find in an encyclopedia and will often save you time by providing a great deal of information in one place.
 
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Subject Dictionaries
Dorland's Pocket Medical Dictionary
Subject specific dictionaries clarify the meanings of technical terms that are particular to a specific discipline, author or subject. As even seemingly common or simple words often have complex and surpristing meanings in scholarly works, these dictionaries can be extremely useful.
 
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Handbooks
The Filmmaker's Handbook
Handbooks and manuals are intended to provide quick one-stop access to information that is critical to the student or practitioner in action. Depending on the field, this information may consist primarily of statistics, facts or procedures.
 
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Chronologies
Chronology of Science
Chronologies use the sequence of events to organize and present facts in a manner that allows users to quickly gain a sense of something's history and context. Subjects of chronologies are often places, disciplines or important historical events.
 
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