i have some specimens that i need to examine for a project and this involves trying to understand the microstructure of some materials under the microscope. is there some guide that tells you what the basic properties of microstructures are?
Do you mean something like fractography? Examine the surfaces of the materials and trying to find out special characteristics etc?
If that is so, one of the good basics reading is a pdf file by ASM International: http://www.asminternational.org/pdf/Fract_PFA.pdf
If you go through fractography-related book you will know a lot about structure of a surface.