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Research Process for ESL Students: Background

Many students have difficulty narrowing a topic because they do not know enough about it. What these students need is to find some background information. The best place to find background information on a topic is a reference book, such as an encyclopedia, dictionary, handbook, almanac, or atlas. The Gumberg Library has a tremendous wealth of reference works to choose from, many available electronically.

The Gumberg Library provides access to a number of collections of electronic reference books, comprised of encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, etc. on all subjects. In some collections, all works can be searched at once, which means you do not have to have a particular reference book in mind before you start.

These collections include:

Gale Virtual Reference Library     Oxford Reference
Sage eReference Wiley Online Library

For Professor Harmatz's class: Literature Resource Center

If you are interested in researching a current events topic, the database below is great for providing background information:

CQ Researcher Plus Archive

To access one of these collections, just click on a link above. If you are accessing these collections from home, you will need to enter your MultiPass username and password to get to them.


Using Wikipedia is an easy and convenient way to begin find background information. But be aware that there are two serious flaws with Wikipedia. The first is that anyone can write articles for it. You do not have to be an expert on a subject. The second is that anyone can edit the articles. Again, you do not have to be an expert on the subject. These two points cause concerns as to the accuracy of what you read there. Because of these problems, gain what background information you can from Wikipedia articles, but do not use them as sources for academic writing.