Skip to Main Content
University of Oregon
UO Libraries

Getting Started with Library Research: An Overview of the Process

A research guide to support your journey through the library research process. Contact a librarian for assistance!

Need Help?

Chat Email Phone Text

Knight Library Reference Collection

Reference Collections

Photograph of Native American encyclopedias and other reference works

Reference works contain background information on a variety of topics related to the major fields of study at the University of Oregon and beyond. Use this information to check facts, look for ideas, and to get an overview of a topic or field. The items in this collection cannot be checked out, they are kept in the building so that all may use them.

Knight Library

Knight Library has a Reference Collection on Level 1 near the Research Help Desk.

Photograph of hawk sculpture sitting on top reference collection shelves

This sculpture is located in the Reference Collection in Knight Library.

Branch Locations

Many of our branch libraries also have reference materials at their locations. 

Tree icon from Noun ProjectLike the roots of a tree, background information is not always visible but it does play an important role in your research.

Starting research often means finding an overview of a topic, checking facts and data, checking dates of significant events, or looking up definitions of specialized terms. Reference books can give background information, including the scope of the topic area, noteworthy people, and statistics to help jumpstart your research.

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources (Video Tutorial)

Check out this video from Suffolk County Community College Library to understand how primary, secondary, and tertiary sources vary by discipline.

 

Background Info/Reference Databases - General Subjects

Before you Start...

Before you start any research on your topic, you must develop some background knowledge including facts, dates, and names of important people, places, or theories. Books and websites can provide you with that knowledge.

This is important because:

  1. Background sources give you the language that people are using to discuss your topic. You will use this language (look for keywords!) when you start to search databases for scholarly articles and resources on the topic.
  2. This "pre-research" gives you a sense if your topic is focused enough. If your initial searches bring back so many results you can't even figure out what the language is, then you should consider narrowing your topic.

Remember, background information is always a starting point for research, not an ending point.

General Reference Databases (library subscription resources)

Open Web (Free) Resources

Need a definition from a scholary source? Use Reference materials from UO Libraries

If you need a definition from a scholarly source that you can cite in your paper, use LibrarySearch's "Reference Entries" filter to locate dictionaries, encyclopedias and more.

A screen capture of the LibrarySearch catalog interface showing a search for artificial intelligance with the Resource Type filter applied for "Reference Entries." Annotation says "Your results will include Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, and other Specialized Reference Sources"

How do I narrow my results to get reference works?A screen capture of the Resource Type filter menu on the LibrarySearch catalog interface showing "REference Entries" selectred and an arrow indicating where to click on the button that says "Apply filters"

Choose  "Reference Entries" under Recourse Type from the options on the left, then click "Apply Filters."

Using Wikipedia for Research (Infographic)

In addition to being a great place to start exploring an unfamiliar topic, Wikipedia is considered a tertiary source. Writers of tertiary sources synthesize information from secondary sources and strive to report them in a tone that is as unbiased and neutral as possible. 

Some tertiary sources are cited in academic research and others are not. This practice varies by discipline so contact your instructor or a librarian with questions!

Thanks to IUPUI University Library for allowing reuse of this graphic under a Creative Commons license.

Reflecting person icon from Noun ProjectWhat is considered background information can vary by discipline. If you're not sure what it is or where to find it, check out this YouTube video on primary, secondary, and tertiary sources from Suffolk County Library.

Are you citing background information in your research paper/project? You can always check with your instructor to see if that is acceptable for the assignment or within your discipline/major.

University of Oregon Libraries
1501 Kincaid Street Eugene, OR
97403-1299
T: (541) 346-3053
F: (541) 346-3485
Make a Gift