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PHYS 2080 - Physics Seminar: Gather Supporting Materials

Search for scientific literature effectively

Getting Started with Background Information

You can start your research project by getting background information of a particular topic (e.g. definition, background, and overview)

There are many online reference sources you can use to gather information:

  • Reference Tools:

          Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, etc. (e.g. Oxford Reference Online)

          More reference tools on Research Guides: (

  • Databases:

          You can access the databases through

  • Journals:

          Journals are articles which help you understand a particular topic more thoroughly

          Finding journal articles from Library databases and Google or Google Scholar, what are their differences?

  • Other Internet Resources


These resources can help give you a quick overview of a topic with more credibility than Wikipedia or a broad Google search.

You can refer to the Library Resources tab for more information.





Identify the Information Needs

To answer your research question, you may need different types of information:

Information Types Examples Information Sources
Definitions of key terms
  • What are black holes?
  • What are atoms?
  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries
Facts and statistics
  • How many joules of energy is needed to heat up 1kg of water by 1K?
Short review of a subject
  • What are Newton's Laws?
  • Reference books such as encyclopedia, handbooks and almanac summarize the most important aspects of topics concerned
  • Surveys of current discussion can be found in magazines and journals
Detailed study of a subject
  • How do electrons work in conduction of electricity?
A scholarly research article
  • What does the Theory of Relativity talk about?
Discussion of an event or current affairs
  • application of optic fibre in data transmission

Evaluate the Information Sources

Why we need to do so?

  • There are many different publication channels and now almost anyone can publish opinions online.
  • Just because something is published does not make it accurate or trustworthy.

Determine whether an information source (articles, webpages, etc) is useful for your work by evaluating the reliability, suitability, coverage, relevancy and usability of information. You can refer to the following aspects:

Treatment and Depth

  • Is it a scholarly research?
  • Who is the intended audience? Experts or general public? Does the level suit your requirement?

Credibility and Authority

  • Who is the author? What is his/her qualification and affiliation?
  • Who is the publisher?
  • Are claims supported by evidence?
  • Does it list its reference sources?


  • When was the information published? (Consider timeliness: still current and valid ones)
  • Would the subject matter change with time? Does it matter if it is old or new?


People or organizations may manipulate information to serve their own purposes. Look for bias and hidden assumptions in what you read:

  • Any supporting evidences?
  • Publication motive. Why was this published?
  • Viewpoints of authors
  • Twisted interpretation or biases of data
  • Use of sensational words

For your practice, is this article a reliable information source?

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