English 102 (Hoffman): Choose a Topic

Essay #4: Research Essay

Books to Discover Topics

Preliminary Research--Exploring your topic

LOOK for Sources that...

  • hold your interest?
  • offer enough information to answer the questions for the assignment?
  • provide different perspectives or new information about the issue?
  • help you formulate new questions about the issue because they are in depth, or
  • help you recognize the controversy related to the issue more thoroughly?

Don't Forget About Reference Books--in print

Reference Books

If your instructor has told you that you can't use encyclopedias be sure to question that limitation to make sure he or she meant to restrict your use of scholarly subject encyclopedias. Because subject encyclopedias are a great resource for finding background information. You could think of them as books filled with detailed articles written by scholars in various disciplines that are like well-written research papers. They are not your average general encyclopedia, like World Book, that has brief articles on a wide variety of subjects. 

Subject encyclopedias are: 

  • Highly reliable
  • Cover topics in detail
  • Include articles signed by the scholar authors
  • Have helpful bibliographies
  • Are brief enough so as not to be overwhelming



  • The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life
  • The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Popular Culture
  • Encyclopedia of Food and Culture

Preliminary Research

Background research helps you identify the “who, what, when, why, where” information on your topic. Reference books and article databases offer useful topic overviews and usually include bibliographies leading you to more specific sources on your topic. Background research sources can begin to answer some of your research questions, and give you ideas of new questions to ask.

Conduct background research because:

  • It is a great source of core knowledge on your topic
  • It can generate ideas on different ways to focus your topic
  • It can answer research questions you've already posed
  • It may help you clarify and/or expand research questions.
  • It often points you towards other sources of information on your topic (bibliographies)