Background research can take several forms. You might search Google, or read a few articles, or page through a chapter in a book. In all of these instances, you will be briefly surveying the existing information to learn about your topic.
This helps to:
Identify key concepts, important terminology, notable people, and big events related to the topic
Formulate more specific research questions to help narrow your topic
Choose keywords to use for deeper searching
Highlight potential references and resources to use as you go through your research process
Make sure that there is enough information available on your topic
Decide if you truly want to pursue your research
However, many professors and scholars do not recommend Wikipedia as a source of research because pages can be subject to errors and inconsistencies. In addition, some Wikipedia articles have been subject to vandalism, biased writing, and unsubstantiated claims.
Even if you cannot use Wikipedia as a source, it still has an important place in the pre-research process. When searching for background information, Wikipedia can be a good place to start. Understanding the background, history, and related terminology of a topic can help you discover scholarly and substantiated information from other sources like quality websites, books, or periodicals.
Besides giving an overview of a topic, Wikipedia is also a place to find leads to published materials and websites. For example, scroll to the end of many articles to find a list of Notes or References of sources used to write the article. Some of the sources may be hyperlinked, while others may just have the citation information. The Further Reading and External Links sections in Wikipedia may also have helpful leads to more information.
A simple Google search can yield an enormous number of results worthy of consideration for background information. Many will provide basic overviews of a topic or discuss popular opinion on a current issue. Look for these types of sources in your results list:
You can use the CRAP test to evaluate a source based on the following criteria:
Google Scholar can also be beneficial in finding scholarly articles. While there are may full-text articles available freely in Google Scholar, you may get prompted to pay for the full text of articles. In many cases, these are articles that you can freely access through the Library.
If you are on campus: Google Scholar will recognize you as a STLCOP user, clicking on the Check for STLCOP Full-Text link should take you to the full text.
We have access to many encyclopedias including...
The Library has books on a wide variety of topics, so make sure to check our collection. For help locating books see our How to Find a Book guide.
MOBIUS is a large consortium of libraries. Books requested through MOBIUS usually arrive at the Library in two to three business days and can be checked out for four weeks.
You can find the MOBIUS catalog on the library homepage under Expand Your Search. Or, if you are already searching for a book in the STLCOP catalog, you can also click on the Search MOBIUS button at the top or bottom of the page.