im pretty much in the same boat, but i feel confident that i a least have a basic understanding of the process. from what i understand, the mastering process can more or less be summed up in 3 steps...
1. corrective EQ
2. compression (often with a multiband compressor so one can compress the lows, mids, and highs differently if needed)
3. brickwall limiting (so that there is no digital clipping on the master fader)
basically the process is to do whatever is necessary to the unmastered track(s) to make them sound like other "commercial" tracks.
as far as tips and techniques, im a noob as well and would love to hear what anybody else has to offer on the subject. sorry if i wasn't much help =/