2. Finding background information

Once you have identified the main topic and keywords for your research, find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. They will give you an idea of how much and what kind of information is available on a given topic.

The most common background sources are encyclopedias and dictionaries from the reference collections. Textbooks also provide background information.

There are many sources to choose from. Often it depends on the concept of the problem.

The following overview should provide a first guide.

  • Theoretical background and surveys can be found in the following sources:
    • Handbooks are reference works on a certain subject field. They are found in the library in section A21.
    • Encyclopedias provide concise articles in various branches of knowledge or a certain branch of knowledge meant for the non-specialists. In the library they are mostly found in section A20. The Encyclopedia of Mathematics is also available on the web.
    • Survey articles or review articles are overviews of the history, developments and state-of-the-art of certain topics. They summarize the current state of research on a certain topic by organizing, compiling and critically evaluating the relevant literature. They are written by specialists and they usually provide a comprehensive list of references. They can be found in many kinds of publications, as monographs, in collections of articles and journals, e.g.: ACM Computing Surveys, Acta Applicandae Mathematicae, European Journal of Applied Mathematics, Probability Surveys, Proceedings of the IEEE , Statistical Science, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society and SIAM Review.
    • Textbooks are manuals of instruction or standard books in any branch of study. They are classified by both the target audience and the subject. (Wikipedia)
      Textbooks can be located in the library catalogue by entering the surname of the author and/or (part of) the title.



  • Recent scientific information can be found in articles published in conference proceedings and research journals. They provide the latest developments in scientific research.


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