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Library DIY: Starting your Research

Always start with a good foundation

Once you have chosen a topic, written your research question, and identified your keywords, it's important to make sure you have a basic understanding of the topic and can define/explain your keywords. 

Without this background knowledge, it will be very hard to tell if a book or article will actually help you with your assignment.  Doing this background reading now will also make it much easier for you to write a solid paper later! 

So, where do you find good, reliable background information?


Use virtual encyclopedias or general reference resources, like Credo Reference or Britannica Online, to look up your keywords

Or search WISE for discipline-specific reference material by typing in "encyclopedia + your broad topic"

Academic Books

Academic books can be a great place to start. Their introductions will usually set up the issue, outline proposed solutions, and frame the scholarly conversation on the topic. The conclusion of the book can also be helpful to understand any major points covered in the book that might relate to your topic.  Academic books will also have bibliographies that can point you toward other sources that might be helpful.

Be sure to review the Table of Contents to see if there are any chapters that relate to your topic.  Generally, the book as a whole will be too broad and you probably do not need to read the whole book as part of your research, but there may be a lot of useful information in one specific chapter. 


Other possibilities

You might also use Google or another search engine to search for an existing bibliography, library guide, or government report on your topic. Adding [] or [] to the end of your search will limit your search to only College or Government websites respectively.

You may be tempted to use a site like Wikipedia to get basic background information, but remember that Wikipedia can be edited/altered by anyone with an account.  While there are many people who work very hard to keep Wikipedia articles accurate, there are many others who go in behind them and change the information. 

If you use Wikipedia, be sure to use Credo Reference or Britannica Online to confirm any information you find.  Wikipedia is not a citable source, you need to find that same information in a reliable resource if you want to cite it.