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ENGL 112: English Composition - Carlson

Building your knowledge with books

Books are one place you will find secondary and primary research works. A relevant book source should help you in one of the following ways:

  1. It provides a quality overview of the topic or some aspect of it;
  2. It places your topic within a larger body knowledge;
  3. It provides the historical background of the topic;
  4. It explains the importance of topic in society today;
  5. It outlines the controversies of dilemmas within the topic. 


Another way to search for books is by subject headings (see instructions for using Browse Search in the Subject Encyclopedia box above).  The Library of Congress examines books when published and assigns subject headings to a book based on the topic(s) of the book. A subject heading is a specific heading or "tag" that is assigned to all books dealing with the topic. That way when you search using it, you will find all books that have been classified in the same way. Here is an explanation of the difference between keywords and subjects.

Subject headings are also useful when you have found one useful book using keywords and you wish to find others just like it. Check the subject headings for the book you have found (they are listed under the Item Details tab on the book's record). By clicking on the subject heading, you will get results that have been classified in the same way. 

If your book is an e-book, it will often show Subject Headings exactly as the one above.  However, if it doesn't, then you will need to click on the link to access the e-book and then look for the subject heading on the download page. 

Evaluating Books with PAARC

To evaluate books, you can use the same PAARC criteria as before.  In addition, you can

  • Check the table of contents to see if it is relevant to your topic and relevant to help you learn more about your topic or to provide historical background.
  • How does the information compare with what you have in other sources? Is there a bibliography, reference, or footnotes? Look at the bottom of pages for footnotes or at the end of a chapter or the end of the book for references.
  • What do others think of it? Read reviews about the book and the author.  Try using the sources listed at the bottom of this box (e.g. Books in Print, Choice Reviews) to evaluate one of your book sources.  You can also Google the book in Google or Google Scholar by title of book and the word review. Finally, you can see what others think of the book on
  • What can you find out about the publisher? You can Google the publisher's website and look in 'About Us' and browse other titles. Are they an academic publisher? Do they have a specialty in a particular area? Who are they trying to sell books to?
  • Is the information age & academic level appropriate? Looking at the publisher information who is the audience? What is the reading level? Is this appropriate for the information you need? 
  • What is the publication date? Does this fit with what you need for your topic (humanities/religion > than 10 years; professional excluding health 5-10 years; health/nursing, sciences 5 years or <)?

Possible places to find book reviews:

Pro-tip: Lists to Consider

As you move deeper into your research and your data collecting, consider keeping one or more of the following types of lists for your topic. 

  1. Keywords from thinking, brainstorming, background reading, or a thesaurus 
  2. Relevant call numbers, to use for both shelf and online browsing purposes
  3. Subject headings from the fullest display in an online catalog (Item Details) 
  4. Authors and scholars whose work is repeatedly mentioned by others
  5. Publishers that seem to specialize in the field
  6. Institutions, associations, societies, or government agencies that focus on the area of interest
  7. Dates,  such as the life span of key people, the exact date of a major event, or the publication year of primary sources

Taken from The Elements of library research: What every student needs to know.