Most research questions do not exist in an information vacuum... other researchers have likely been discussing the general topic you are researching in both published and unpublished forums. It's a good idea to do some sort of survey of what's already out there as you begin your research.
Why? This will help you:
Bringing yourself up to speed on your particular area of research can have big payoff in understanding and interpreting your results, avoiding roadblocks, or finding new avenues for investigation. Here are some tips
Another approach is to look for what papers have been cited in a lot of other published research. If can identify these highly-cited papers, you'll be reading the work that has had the most influence on other scholars publishing in your field.
These papers may be older (since the longer a paper has been around, the more chance it has had to be cited), but they are often very important finding, techniques, or approaches that changed the direction of your field.
One database that allows you to review a list of publication in order of how highly cited they are is Web of Science.
In Web of Science, change the Sort by: dropdown from 'Latest Date' to 'Times Cited':
In Google Scholar, results are arranged in an order that takes the number of times cited into account.
The University Libraries subscribe to many research databases in all disciplines. For many subjects there may be one best database, for other topics (especially interdisciplinary ones), there may be several. See other boxes on this page for multi-subject databases good for most areas. Contact a reference librarian for assistance in choosing and searching appropriate databases.
Many of our subscribed research databases can be searched in one place through our UTMOST search. Be sure to use the limits on the left side of the results to help narrow down your search to just what you're looking for by topic, type of publication, year, etc.