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Research Guides

Getting Started with an Unfamiliar Topic

When you begin research on a topic with which you are not familiar, you may want to start by reading some basic materials written by experts in their fields.  Here are some resources to get you started on your journey of discovery:

  • Encyclopedias can give you broad overviews on topics, as well as important terminology, authors, texts, and sources for further reading. For example: Encyclopedia of educational philosophy and theory. Try databases such as Oxford Research Encyclopedias and Gale eBooks, which allow you to search across hundreds of academic encyclopedia at once. 
  • Handbooks are good resources for finding literature reviews and in-depth background about a topic. They are edited by experts who seek out additional experts to write chapters that outline the current state of research on a topic. They usually include rich bibliographies that help you find additional studies related to the topic. For example: Handbook of Research on Classroom Diversity and Inclusive Education Practice. 
  • Scholarly books contain authoritative information which can include comprehensive or in-depth coverage of research, historical perspectives, and overviews of a topic. They are good for getting background information on a topic, to add more in-depth information to your topic, and often to get multiple views on a topic. Use UW Libraries Search to search for print and ebooks at UW Libraries and beyond. 
  • Perusing Literature Reviews is another way to quickly get familiar with a topic and also to find some of the major research studies gathered together by experts.  Click the Literature Review tab on the left for information on how to find literature reviews.