For Visiting Students: Check your university library for this service
The more you know about a topic, the better you'll be able to research it. You'll be familiar with the terminology, you'll understand the underlining science and you'll be aware of the issues in the field. Most importantly, you'll find it easier to read the books and articles that you found from your library search.
The following encyclopedias, dictionaries and handbooks will help you learn about the basics of your topic before and during your research.
Resources for finding background information ...
Library One Search To find encyclopedia articles and other types of background material, enter your topic in the search box. When you get the results list, look in the left-hand column for the "Content Type" section and check the "Reference" option - this will limit the results mainly to encyclopedias but may also include handbooks and other types of material useful for getting an introduction to a topic. You might also want to include "Book Chapter" as a "Content Type" - sometimes this strategy will retrieve appropriate articles but at other times it will fail - try it to see if it works for you.
eLS: citable reviews in the life sciences Formerly known as the Encycloped of Life Sciences, this is an excellent source for introductory articles on life sciences topics. After you enter the database, make sure to click on "search within this book" link as illustrated below before you enter your search terms.
Knovel Search the whole database of over 3000 science and engineering handbooks, encyclopedias, and databases, or search just within a specific title. These are just a few examples of the types of books in the Knovel database:
Dictionary of Science Need just a simple definition for a term? This dictionary covers all aspects of chemistry, physics, biology, earth sciences, and astronomy.
MathWorld A very useful free web site in which you can find an extensive range of mathematical terminology defined. Many (but unfortunately, not all) of the entries in this encyclopedic work are well illustrated and contain a list of references for further reading. This site is a great place to find mathematical formulas and descriptions of mathematical terminology.