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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Understand your topic


Doing some background reading will give you a better understanding of your topic and provide direction for your research.

It helps you define terms, gather facts and get an overview of the topic.

Wikipedia is a good starting place for a topic overview, but don't rely on it as a key reference for your assignments. Wikipedia articles can be written by anyone regardless of their knowledge or qualifications.

Here are some ideas on how to find background information:

  • Dictionaries can help you define terms used in your subject area - use general and subject-based dictionaries.
  • Encyclopedias are the place to look for facts and expert summaries on a topic - use general and subject-based encyclopedias.
  • Use textbooks for broad overviews and detailed information on the main aspects of a topic.
  • Journal articles written by experts on the topic you are researching can help you identify the main issues in that topic.

Library Subject Guides

Library Subject Guides can also help you find subject dictionaries and reference resources for background reading, whatever is relevant to what you're studying.

Play the following video to find out how Library Subject Guides can help you.

As a student do you ever feel like you're drowning in a sea of information?

I know I did.

There's so much out there but I never knew how to tell whether it was any good.

Then the library threw me a lifeline.

I found my subject guide!

Subject guides are mini websites for each subject area.

They show you all the best places to look for information on what you're studying.

This includes the best journals, websites, conference papers, e-books, books and more, whatever is relevant to what you're studying.

Subject guides and made by librarians, experts in finding information in your area, so you know what you're searching will be good quality.

For my next assignment I skipped Google and started with my subject guide.

I saved heaps of time by heading straight for the quality resources.

Now assignment time isn't overwhelming because I know I can get to the right information when I need it.

It makes all the difference when you know where to start.