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Doing Research from a Distance Tutorial: #4: Find Background Information

Step 4: Find Background Information

| Online Reference Resource Guide | More Tips |

lady with a stack of booksStart out looking for basic background information on your topic. Use general reference sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, or almanacs to get a general introduction to your topic and the key terms used to describe the topic.

Key terms might include synonyms for the topic, or broader terms that would include the topic or appropriate subtopics. Here's a simple example: topic = ice cream; look for information under headings such as frozen desserts, dairy products, sherbet, etc. Remember that online card catalogs and article databases search by subject term or keyword. Check out the Subject/Keyword Tutorial.

A Guide to Using Online Reference Resources:

The table below can help you use different online reference resources to find relevant background information. The Online Reference Resources page has a wide variety of resources to help you.

Types of InformationUse these Reference Resources
Definitions Dictionaries & Glossaries
Short Essays Encyclopedias & Handbooks, Article Databases, Open Access Journal Collections
Information on Individuals Biographical Dictionaries
Meanings of acronyms (UNESCO, DOE, etc.) Acronyms & Abbreviations
News & Current Events Newspapers, News magazines, and News media sites
Maps Maps & Atlases
Quotes Quotation Directories
People, Companies, Organizations or Governments Directories, Governments
Multimedia Multimedia sources
Book Reviews Book Review sources
Research Quality Web Sites Other reference collections

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More Tips on Finding Background Information:

  1. Read background information and note any useful sources (books, journals, newspapers, web sites, etc.) listed in the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article or dictionary entry. These sources are good starting points for further research.
  2. Once you have a list of sources, the next step is to get them and do some reading. Search the card catalog at your home school library or check out the article databases (See Step 5 for more information on locating high quality sources).
  3. As you are searching the databases or card catalog, keep track of the different subject terms that are listed on each item's record. Write those down and try a search with those terms to see what you find.
  4. Exploit bibliographies - check the bibliographies in the books and journals you decide might be useful for your paper; you may find additional relevant resources for your research.

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