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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Training scholarly information handling for geoscience faculty & PhDs: 2B: Exploring a subject


This page offers tools to explore subjects in geoscience, geography, planning, innovation science and environmental science.

Here you'll find:

  1. Exploring topics in earth science
  2. Exploring topics in environmental science
  3. Exploring topics in innovation science
  4. Exploring topics in human geography & planning
  5. Uses of Wikipedia in science
  6. Adding to Wikipedia yourself

And you might try:

  1. Finding out if there are any important (online) encyclopeadias in you field that we missed and make suggestions to add them uysing the comments link,
  2. Finding out the quality of Wikipedia articles on your specilaist subjects,
  3. Enriching the (English language) Wikipedia articles on your subjects by correcting or elaborating them or by adding references.

Exploring Earth Science subjects

The first stage in finding information is a short exploration of your subject. You ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is the exact meaning of the terminology used in my subject
  • Where and when?
  • From which sub-discipline of Earth Sciences is the subject approached?
  • Are any other disciplines relevant to the study of the subject?
  • What is the process/phenomenon part of?
  • What aspects are part of the process/phenomenon?
  • What is common knowledge, what has already been proven and what is being researched or not being researched at all yet?

To answer these questions you can investigate your subject briefly with the help of some of these reference works and search engines:

 Many of the online reference works can also be found as books in the collection G-REF (2nd floor of the University Library Uithof), sections D and F.

Exploring topics in innovation science

A first phase in searching is a short exploration of your subject. Ask yourself:

  • What do the words/terms in my subject mean exactly?
  • Where and when?
  • Might the subject be studied by scholars from other disciplines as well? If so, which?
  • Is the phenomenon/process part of something larger or more encompassing?
  • What aspects are there to the phenomenon/process?
  • What is clear/proven, what is still being studied and what is still terra incognita?

To answer these questions you can search some of these reference works:

Exploring topics in human geography and planning

The first phase of searching is exploring your topic. Ask yourself:

  • What do the words in the topic description you were given mean?
  • When and where?
  • What geographical subdisciplines study the phenomenon/process?
  • Are other disciplines (economics? sociology?) relevant?
  • Is the proces/phenomenon part of something bigger?
  • What are the different aspects of the process/phenomenon?
  • (only for big projects such as a master thesis/PhD thesis:) What is accepted knowledge, with abundant evidence and what is still in debate?

To be able to answer these questions please explore some of these reference works and search engines:

  • General:
    • Wikipedia (English version); Wikipedia has often referneces to some basic literature. You can also search geographically for Wikipedia articles via Google Maps
    • A quick search; use the scholarly jargon and/or filter results by reading level (via het menu search tools | reading level, only in and only when you use the English interface)
  • Geographical:

Exploring your subject with handbooks and encyclopedias

Before you dive into specialist literature it always helps to get some basic information first and contextualize your topic. You can use reference works for that:

  • specialised encyclopedias targeting a certain topic or discipline: these are often substantial books with dozens, even up to thousands of short pieces on all aspects of a topic or on all issues in a discipline.
  • handbooks: introductory works with dozens somewhat longer pieces describing the current state of knowledge, often arranged thematically or by scientific perspective.
  • guides: books that are mostly more practically oriented or describing how to do research in a certain field.

Although there are thousands of these type of reference works there is no guarantee that they will be available for each and every topic. Also the delineations between the different types mentioned above may be quite vague.

Finding these reference works is not that hard. Using the advanced search in WorldCat. Search the title field with handbook OR encyclop*. On a second line of the same search again select the title field and type in a search term describing your subject (e.g. energy, transport*, horse*, renaissance, copyright, drug abuse or gravitational waves) .Try various (broader and narrower) terms that describe your topic. An increasing share of the search results will be available as e-books.

You can also try other terms describing reference works: dictionary, compendium, gazetteer, manual, textbook or truncate some of the terms, e.g. encyclop*. If you need to find non-English reference works, you need to work with non-English terms.

The most important reference works are also mentioned in the list of search systems on the library website.

What about Wikipedia?

In scholarly research, Wikipedia can be used for:

  • Initial exploration of a subject
  • Gaining ideas about search terms to be used
  • Finding out or checking facts, but please do a double-check
  • Literature references: often there are references to a small number of crucial publications
  • Source references: in the footnotes of many articles detailed source references can be found
  • As object of study: in what way is a subject written about in an influential reference work?
  • As quick translation tool, for words, but particularly for concepts for which mainstream (online) dictionaries offer no solution

Please bear in mind that the various language versions of Wikipedia may differ:  as a rule the larger versions (for instance the English version) is of a higher quality, because on average more people contribute to an article. Compare the article in the different language versions.

Another thing one can do is study the talk pages of an article. It shows the (low or high) level of discussion amongst editors. You can take that into account in your decision on how to use the information provided in the article.

Contrary to what is often thought, Wikipedia is a reference work with explicit rules, policy and control.

In the special LibGuide Wikipedia  more details, background information and examples of good Wikipedia-use.