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Research Process: 2. Get Background Information

I have a research project to do, now what? This is a guide that will walk you through the research process, from selecting a topic to putting it all together.

Explore the Ideas Within Your Topic

Illustration icon of thinking personBackground information means all the basic, easy who/what/when/where of your topic. Who was Marie Curie? When did the Romantic literary period begin? Who were the combatants in World War I?


Benefits of Background Research

  • CONTEXT! You can't really speak coherently about the impact of the automobile on society if you aren't also aware of what the horse-drawn carriage society was like, what the state of manufacturing was like, the purchasing power of the auto's target demographic, and so on.
  • You learn the JARGON. Scholarly articles are written by experts, for experts. They don't usually take the time to remind their readers what a term or process means, since the assumption is the readers already know. This can also present a barrier to finding those articles, as well. What's a non-expert to do? You've got to learn to speak the language of the field.
  • IDEA DEVELOPMENT! Let your research help you do research. As you're learning about the context and picking up on new terminology, you'll also be noticing key people, places, and events that relate to your topic... all of which will help you delve into your deeper research more effectively.

EncylopediasUseful sources of background info:

  • your textbook
  • dictionaries
  • general or subject-specific encyclopedias (including, yes, Wikipedia*)
  • news articles
*Remember! The information you find at this stage probably won't (or shouldn't) end up in your final paper. You're just trying to explore your topic so that you have a good grasp of what you're looking for and so you can do your more effective research later on.

Suggested Library Resources:

Check out the other tabs below for tips on searching in these collections!



Credo Reference 

Includes materials from over 650 reference books on a variety of topics in higher education, including art, business, history, languages, literature, science, criminal justice, and political science.

When you go into Credo, search for simple terms and phrases, starting with your main topic idea. Credo will suggest related terms as you start to type.

Credo search box with "vacc" typed in, showing the suggested search terms to complete the word vaccination

Your search results from Credo are all from encyclopedias and dictionaries -- again, this is background research to give you ideas and a better understanding. In all likelihood, you should not be directly referencing these results in your final works cited!

Click the icons on the image below to learn more about the results Credo is providing, as well as features of this resource.

  1. Select Mind Map from the dropdown menu next to the search box, as shown below.
    Mind Map is at the far right end of the search bar, as part of a dropdown menu of searches in Credo.

  2. Type your search term.
  3. Select Mind Map Search.
  4. The map displays your search term at the center with related terms around it. The panel on the right has links to articles explaining the selected term.

  5. Click on different terms to redraw the map and explore related topics!

Screenshot of the Credo Reference Mind Map for Leadership, filtered to "coaching." Article links are provided on the right.


Gale Ebooks 

Dozens of complete reference books on arts, business, education, history, law, literature, sciences, and technology. (Formerly Gale Virtual Reference Library)

Enter a simple search word or phrase to learn more about your basic topic. Click the icons on the image below to learn more about the features of the Gale Ebooks search results.

Explore related ideas to your topic visually with the Topic Finder tool.

Gale Topic Finder search for "vaccination" showing colored, scaled tiles of related terms, and links to articles on the right.

Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints 

Full text on current social issues from sources including books, statistical reports, and news publications.