Great suggestions above, here is the methodology I follow:
- First off, determine the general term for the area of your thesis, for example, "civil engineering" or "genetics".
- Create a word document (literature review) where you keep track of citations and books you have read in this topic.
- Perform a "Google Scholar" Search for your topic, add list of citations to your literature review as you save each article and print to keep in a notebook. In addition, add a 'review' of each journal article you read including Summary, Main Hypothesis, Strengths/Weaknesses and Date Reviewed.
- On Google Scholar, you can see what other articles have cited the article you are reading. This is a great way to gain further resources for your search.
- Do this every day for a few weeks and you will be sufficiently immersed to have a background in the previous work to understand your thesis topic and background.
Additional Tips: When performing research, it's important to begin focusing on what new insights, methods or understanding you can bring to this field of study. In many ways, academia is a 'competition' where the winners are rewarded for their efforts with additional funding, facilities, and prestige. By performing background research (aka Literature Review), you are able to learn from the hard work and progress of others, and expand on their insights in order to 'make a better mousetrap'.