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One Book 2019-2020: Immigration, Borders and Education - Behold the Dreamers & Papers: Dig Deeper into Research: Background Sources & More

Why Start with Reference?

Start your research with background information from an academic encyclopedia.
Read closely for: 

  • definitions
  • an overview of key issues
  • stakeholders (the groups or individuals this topic impacts/concerns)
  • contents and historical perspectives
  • legislation and policy
  • solutions, proposals, and approaches
  • specialized vocabulary
  • leads to other sources 

Subject Encyclopedias & Other Reference Sources

Start with Reference Sources

Start with the following online library databases to gather background information (who, what, where, why, etc.) on your topic.

These academic resources are more reliable than Wikipedia. Why not Wikipedia? While Wikipedia is easy to find and use (and a great public project), articles in Wikipedia are anonymous and openly edited. That means for academic purposes, Wikipedia is not an authoritative resource.

Finding a Background Article in a Reference Database

(GVRL, U.S. History in Context, CQ Researcher) 

Type your topic in the search box. Use "quotation marks" if your topic is more than one word, to keep the phrase together. Make sure the "Keyword" search option is selected, and hit "Search."

GVRL Advanced Search Screen

Choosing a Good Reference Article on Your Topic

Look near the top of your article results list to see how many results your search found. The article title will appear on top of the encyclopedia title. You can select an article by clicking on the article title to open. (Avoid clicking on the encyclopedia title.)

To choose a background article, look for articles that are relevant to your topic. Think about the title. Does it sound relevant? Think about the encyclopedia the article is from. Does that sound relevant and appropriate to your assignment?

If I am trying to learn about real world issues, from the list below I would select an article from the Encyclopedia of Social Problems or from Race and Racism in the US, rather than an article from an encyclopedia about literature.  

American Dream GVRL search results

Select Reference


Research Log for Ericka Nelson's English 101