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Library Research at Seneca

How do I find an overview on a topic or person?

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Background Research

Performing background research (sometimes called "preliminary research") on your topic is useful to get a baseline understanding of the topic before you start doing further research and looking at more academic sources. 

After doing some background research you should be able to:

  • List the basic issues or concepts surrounding this topic
  • Describe the topic in general terms without relying on notes
  • Generate a list of keywords or subtopics that are commonly paired with your topic

Tools for conducting background research include:

Google - Google your topic and see what comes up. What types of websites appear (educational? governmental? news headlines? personal pages?)

►Wikipedia - Google may lead you to a Wikipedia page on your topic or you can look it up yourself. Things to note:

  • The Wikipedia entry/article on your topic is not an academic or reliable source and cannot be cited in your assignment. This is because it is editable by anyone with a Wikipedia account.
  • The references at the bottom of a Wikipedia entry can be viewed by you and judged on their own merit. Sometimes they link to credible websites such as for organizations, governments, white papers, etc. 

Library Search - Doing a quick search in Library search can be useful at the background research stage. Things to note:

  • Results will vary depending on the specific keywords you use
  • What types of resources are coming up - books? magazine articles? peer reviewed articles?
  • It is useful to know the extent your topic has been studied. If you're sure of your keywords but not much is appearing, perhaps your topic is in an emerging field.
  • It can be useful to skim newspaper articles about your topic to see what the general public opinion on a topic is.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries - General and/or specialized encyclopedias may also be a useful tool, depending on you topic and field of interest. Things to note:

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