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Martha S. Grafton Library

Research 101

Getting Started or Background Research

With any research paper, a good first step is to gather background information about your topic, or a "working knowledge". Performing background research will you help you to decide which area of your topic you'd like to research, help you brainstorm alternate keywords, and help you get more familiar with the language used by experts in the field you're researching.

Reference Sources are the best places to gather background information on a topic. In print or online, these sources allow you to scan an entry about your broad topic that gives broad, basic information, such as names, places, dates, and related subheadings. Examples of reference sources include encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Reference sources and databases are great for background research, but you shouldn't use them to write your papers. These sources give you the basic facts and overview of a topic, but don't include original research. They can give you enough information (again, a "working knowledge") of a topic to search for scholarly research, but shouldn't be used in your papers.

Use the resources listed on this page to get started on background research on your topic!

A note on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a reference source, in many ways just like other encyclopedias. The big difference is that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, which makes it susceptible to vandalism. In general, Wikipedia's community of editors keep articles up to date and accurate, but it is still worth being critical of information you read on Wikipedia.

General Online Reference Sources

Online Dictionaries

Online Biographical Sources

Government Information