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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: