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Research Process: Background

Finding Background Information heading

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.

Using background sources is also the quickest way to get at basic information on a topic, much quicker than having to wade through whole books or find and read multiple articles.

Electronic Reference Works heading

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


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

CQ Researcher Plus Archive

If you need to find background information on an author, this is a great database to use:

Literature Resource Center

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 heading

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 and authority 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.

Very Short Introductions heading

Published by Oxford University Press. While the works in this series are not reference works, these very short books (around 120 pages each) provide basic, no-fluff introductions to hundreds of subjects. Check the tables of contents and indexes to find the sections of the books most relevant to your research. You can also keyword search them.

To see all the Very Short Introductions, click the image directly above

If you are off-campus you will need to enter your Multipass username and password when you click on the image

Health Sciences Background Sources

Click a link below to find background sources, print and electronic, in selected subject areas.

African American Experience

Art History

Cultural Studies

Health Sciences

Philosophy (Electronic)

Philosophy (Print)

Theology (Electronic)

Theology (Print)


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