Perpustakaan UiTM Shah Alam


Get to Know Your Topic



Background reading on the proposed topic or area of research is essential before you define and formulate the research question. Think about the following questions as listed by Hart (1998).  These questions will help you make a focus on your research topic, shape and align it with the existing knowledge in the field or with the whole body of knowledge. 

  1. What are the origins and definitions of the topic?
  2. What are the key theories, concepts and ideas?
  3. How is knowledge on the topic structured and organised?
  4. What are the major issues and debates about the topic?
  5. What are the main questions and problems that have been addressed to date
  6. What are the key sources?
  7. What are the political standpoints?
  8. What are the epistemological and ontological grounds for the discipline?


General background information

Read general background information to help you learn and  understand your field of study or research focus more before starting on your literature search.

For a good starting point, use encyclopaedias to get a comprehensive coverage of an entire area of knowledge.  The Library has these e- references to help you get to know your topics more. 

Please sign in using Easy Access   (   if you’re searching from outside the campus.

Britannica Online Academic -   a rich online resource containing the Britannica Encyclopedia, Merriam Webster Dictionary, biography and other research tools.

Gale Virtual Reference Library - a database of encyclopedias and specialized reference sources for multidisciplinary research.

Health and Wellness Resource Center –  including resources from Gale Encyclopaedia of Medicine, Medical and Health Information Directory and Merriam-Webster’s Medical Desk Dictionary.

SAGE Knowledge - the ultimate social sciences digital library with an expansive range of SAGE eBook and eReference content from dictionaries, encyclopaedias, debate series and handbooks.

The Encyclopaedia of Computer Science  - the definitive reference in computer science and technology (link to ACM Digital Library di PTAR Online Database)

PTAR have printed general and subject-specific  encyclopaedias in the reference sections of the stacks.  For guidance on finding the title list click here

Other reference works to look up for are biographies, handbooks, dictionaries, yearbook, almanacs, atlases and maps.


Finding related literature

Reading background literature in your topic will give better ideas  and help shape your research question.  Listed are some of the types of reading materials that you can consult to get an overview of your topic.

Read review articles –

This type of article reviews numerous other articles on a particular topic and thus, sums up the current state of research, highlights current debates, identifies the gaps in research,  suggests ideas for future research direction and showcases the key people in the research area.

Review articles are good starting point to get basic idea on a topic as it provides an overview of the existing literature.  By observing the bibliography section, you could trace more relevant articles or books in your topic.

How to find review articles

  • When searching the online database, choose or filter the search result where possible to include review articles, literature reviews, systematic reviews,  clinic review articles.
  • Depending on the type of database, user may also type in review articles, literature reviews, systematic reviews,  clinic review articles in the search box to retrieve results.
  • The same technique may also be applied when searching the Internet.


  • Pharmacological Reviews  - presents important review articles covering the broad spectrum of pharmacological research.  (link to Pharmacological Reviews di American Society for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) Journals di PTAR Online database
  • Reports on Progress in Physics - publishes review articles covering all branches of physics, written by invited authors who are worldwide experts in their field (link to IOPScience di PTAR online database)
  • Search for  Clinics Review Articles in MDConsult (link to MDConsult di PTAR online database)


Read seminal works

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition defines seminal as “ highly influential in an original way; constituting or providing a basis for further development : a seminal idea in the creation of a new theory”.  Seminal works refers to publications which report on important new ideas, major breakthrough or new insight resulting from a study. These works will later influence the scholarly communitys’ new thinking direction and contributed to the research area body of knowledge by inspiring more research and writings. Because of the influence that they have, the works are considered as the core, classic and the  founding or central publication in a research area and should be included in the literature review.


How to find seminal works

Seminal works are often referred to and therefor are cited by many people in their writings.

  • Observe the bibliography section of the books or articles.  Seminal works are likely to get cited more often and are found in multiple works because they inspired further research.
  • Use citation analysis toosl in Web of Science, Scopus or Google Scholar to identify seminal works. These tools will show highly cited articles in a topic.

Click on this guide Finding seminal works in WoS, Scopus and Google Scholar

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