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Background Information
Reference sources can help you find and develop a research topic by providing background articles, facts, statistics, dates and other general information on most topics.

Using Wikipedia for Academic Research - this is a very helpful 3 minute tutorial on using Wikipedia to locate background information.
Create A Research Plan Using Keywords
Read through your articles/websites and pull out important terms and synonyms to use as keywords when searching the library's databases. 

Pick terms that are broader, narrower, and related to the key terms that you picked out.

[Note: some terms are more common in the scientific literature (hydraulic fracturing) while others are more often used by the general public (fracking).]

Topic The benefits and risks related to genetically modified crops.
Key Concepts Genetically modified organism (GMO) Benefits                          Risks
Related Keywords "genetically modified foods"

"genetically engineered plants"

"transgenic organisms"

"synthetic biology"

"bioengineered food"
"agricultural productivity"


"climate change"

"food security"

"health risks"

"environmental aspects"

"side effects"



Then combine them using AND and OR 
  • AND narrows your search by looking for articles with all of the words
  • OR broadens your search by looking for articles with any of the words
Find Articles
Start here: www.lib.utexas.edu > Research Tools > Find Articles Using Databases

Multidisciplinary Databases:

  • Academic Search Complete: A comprehensive and scholarly database containing magazine, newspaper, and journal articles from across disciplines.  
  • Opposing Viewpoints in Context: this database gathers together viewpoints and information about controversial social issues including: offshore drilling, transportation infrastructure, urban agriculture, and much more. Good place to look for newspaper and magazine articles.
Specialized Databases:

  • ASME Digital Library: online access to all available volumes of the technical journals and conference papers starting with 2002.  NOTE: To access the ASME magazine, Mechanical Engineering, you have to search in Academic Search Complete.
  • IEEE Xplore:  includes most areas of engineering including electrical, computer, mechanical, biomedical, and aerospace
  • ASCE: Civil, Construction, Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural, Transportation
  • TRID: provides access to more than one million records of transportation research worldwide.
  • SAE: Civil and Architectural Engineering, Transportation, Aerospace Engineering
  • Compendex: Contains more than 11 million citations with abstracts from more than 5,600 journals, reports and conference proceedings covering fields of engineering and technology

Specific Titles:

  • Nature: one of the premier scientific publications (UK)
  • Science: one of the premier scientific publications (USA)

Magazines: The following titles and many others are all indexed in Academic Search Complete:
  • Scientific American
  • Technology Review
  • Popular Science
  • Popular Mechanics

 No full-text?    Click the  button to see if it is available in another database or in print in the library.
Find Books
 "There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site." —Sergey Brin (Co-Founder of Google)

Start here: www.lib.utexas.edu > Research Tools > Library Catalog

  • To find a book on your topic, start with a keyword search.
  • When you find a good title, follow the subject headings for more books on the topic.
  • When you find the book, browse other books in the same area for similar resources.
  • Take note of the location of the book, we have over 10 libraries.
  • The call number will help you locate the book on the shelf
  • Take note of the current status: If there is a date listed instead of "AVAILABLE" that means the book is checked out to another person.  But you can request the book back by clicking on the Pick it Up link.

InterLibrary Services Borrowing: will obtain books, article photocopies, and other material not owned by the University of Texas libraries.
Sample Search
1. Come up with keywords and synonyms or related terms.   
  • "hydraulic fracturing"
  • "natural gas extraction"
  • "injection wells"

  • wastewater
  • freshwater
  • "drinking water"
  • "water pollution"                            
  • "industrial wastes"                   
  • "groundwater pollution"
  • "fracturing fluids"   
2. Look for background information
  • Wikipedia - free encyclopedia (authors are anonymous, sometimes vetted by the public) TIP: Looking at the list of references at the end of a wikipedia entry often provides links to newspaper articles, magazine articles, government reports, book titles, and websites.  Less often = scholarly articles.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library - 100s of encyclopedias and specialized reference sources (written by experts, vetted by editors) 

3. Find articles using the library's amazing databases:

Read lots of articles and take note of new or related concepts: you may need to do several searches to get the best articles.

4. Find books:
5. Governmental and international websites provide lots of data, technical reports, and much more.
6. Ask for help if you are:
  • not finding enough material on your topic
  • having problems finding the full-text of an article
  • can't find a book or are having problems with an e-book

Subject Specialist
Picture: Larayne Dallas

Larayne Dallas
Engineering Librarian
Tel: (512) 495-4503

Picture: Robyn Rosenberg

Robyn Rosenberg
Engineering Library - Science Instruction Librarian
Tel: (512) 495-4646

Talk to a Librarian!
If you need help please contact an Engineering Librarian!

 Ask a Librarian - chat with an "on call" librarian
Additional Resources
Engineering Library website:

Business Library Resources - the UT business librarian has many helpful research guides and links to over 50 business databases.
InterLibrary Services Borrowing: will obtain books, article photocopies, and other material not owned by the University of Texas libraries.
How to Read a Primary Research Paper- University of Alberta Libraries.  This easy-to-follow powerpoint explains the various sections of a research article e.g. literature review, methods, and results.
Writing and Citing