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How To: Use Books for Research: Using Books for Research

This guide outlines how to evaluate and use books for research projects.

Why Use Books?

Books are excellent sources for information such as:       • in-depth coverage of a subject        • history and chronology       • overview of a big topic        

• background information           • bibliographies of additional sources. 

A book doesn't need to be read cover-to-cover to be used for research. To determine how appropriate and useful the book might be, look at its parts as outlined in the box below.

All sources of information need to be evaluated before they are used in a research project. To learn more about evaluating resources, click on the tab at the top of this guide.

How to Use a Book

Look at the parts of a book when deciding how it might be used in your research. To see examples, click on each link below or follow the tabs at the top of this guide.

The Title Page gives publication information such as complete title, names of all authors or editors, edition of the book, name of the publisher, city of publication, and date of publication.

The Table of Contents appears at the front of a book and gives a list of the chapters or sections in a book, usually with the corresponding page number.  The table of contents may give a general idea of the topics covered in the book as well as how the book is arranged (for example, chronologically or topically).

A List of Illustrations, which may appear at the front of a book, gives a list of photographs, drawings, tables, or other types of illustrations used to support the contents of the book, usually with corresponding page numbers.

A Preface, Forward, or Introduction may provide the reader with ideas about the author's intention or purpose for writing the book, and may give an indication of the depth of research presented.

A Bibliography is a list of materials related to a specific topic. The list may be sources that were used to create the work they accompany, or it may be a list of additional materials on the topic.   Bibliographies may be located at the ends of chapters throughout the book, or at the end of the book.

The Index, which is usually located in the back of the book, is an alphabetical list of the specific subjects in the book, along with the corresponding page numbers.  Indexes may provide names, dates, events, geographic locations, and other detailed terms related to the contents of the book.  Browsing an index is an excellent way to identify exactly where in the book relevant information may be located.  An index can also provide subject terms and keywords that might be useful for further research on a topic.