Skip to Main Content

Library Research 101: Topic and Background Information

Credo Reference Database

Credo Reference crosses search over 670 full text reference books with a single search. Find facts and background material in authoritative, in-depth articles. Click a button and your search can be continued in our article databases or the WSU Library's Online Catalog.

Gale Reference Center

Access Science Database

Access Science is the gateway to authoritative information in all scientific disciplines, including full text of the latest edition of the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology online, along with videos, animations and downloadable images.

Picking a Topic & Background Research

You might need to get a better sense of what you are looking for so you will need to do some background research first.

  • First, try Credo Reference to find reliable, accurate information for your topic, such as statistics, definitions, overviews, and outlines of your topic (topic pages).
  • Books are a great way to find overviews of your topic: whether you know a lot or a little about your topic, an overview can help you organize complex topics in order to narrow or expand your specific focus. Books also give historical perspective, and offer more in-depth information than you will find on the surface Web.
  • Check the bibliography in the book, at the end of each chapter, or at the end of your research article for references to more material on your topic.
  • Additional background may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks and reserve readings. Don't hesitate to seek out your professor for his/her help and suggestions in setting the right context for your research.

Refine Your Topic

some ideas on narrowing your topic

  • limit the time span
  • limit the population group according to age, sex, race an etc.
  • limit geographical location
  • consider one aspect of the topic

Some ideas on broadening your topic

  • generalize your topic in time span, population group or geographical location
  • use more common words and less jargon
  • consider changing your topic if it is too new and has only information in the news media 

Search with Boolean Operaters

For example, if your topic is: What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students? Then your keywords or concepts would be: alcoholhealth, and college students.

  • If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by using the AND operator. For example:alcohol AND health AND college students.

  • Finding too little information may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. Link similar topics with the OR operator. For example, look for information on college OR university students.  (alcohol OR beer OR liquor) AND (college OR university) students.

  • 3 minute YouTube video on using Boolean operators

Information Has Value

Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination.

--- ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education


Use Internet / Web Information with Caution

The Web is a great place to find background material for your research. But information found on the Web is not a substitute for library resources. You should plan on using information from the Web to better inform you about your topic, but your professor probably won't let you cite it in your research.

Need Help on Starting to Write