Get Started with Background Information

Why Start with Background Information?

Why Start with Background Information?

An overview of your broad topic area helps you start to get informed on your topic by providing factual content from a non-judgmental standpoint.

You can learn the following from reference articles (see the example on this page from an article on genetically modified foods):

  • introductory definitions
  • discussion of key issues
  • different perspectives on contested - and not contested - issues
  • who the stakeholders are on the topic (the groups or individuals this topic concerns)
  • context on how your topic relates to other issues that surround it
  • historical perspective on your topic, including precedents, chronologies, laws, and more
  • specialized vocabulary used in that field (you will use these key words for searches later in your research process)
  • subtopics that may help you narrow and refine a broad starting topic
  • leads to additional sources

How Do I Find and Use Reference Sources?

Online Reference Books in Holman Library

  1.  Click the the library database links below to access digital reference books and subject encyclopedias
  2. First, try a broad search on your topic, such as:
    -genetically modified foods
    -biotech foods
  3. Then try narrower searches such as:  
    -genetically modified foods AND nutrition
    -genetically modified foods AND famine
    -genetically modified foods AND economic development
    -genetically modified foods AND ethics

Sample Search

Sample search in Gale eBooks of the starting idea, "genetically modified foods"

search: genetically modified foods

gale ebooks gen mod foods results list

Reading Strategies

In the excerpt below taken from an article on genetically modified foods from the 2019 Encyclopedia of Technical Innovation in American History, we learn about issues, debates, history, stakeholders (individuals and organizations involved in the issue), and terminology.

click on image to enlarge

issues, debates, stakeholders, history, and terminology - from just one excerpt

And at the end of the article, the Further Reading list provides other leads to research options.

further reading

Library Reference Databases

Holman Library Reference Collections