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Encyclopedias for Background Information
Encyclopedias are an excellent source to obtain background information on a topic. WNC Library has a collection of reference books (encyclopedias, handbooks, and fact books) online - many of them focusing on a single topic or subject. Like Wikipedia, they provide comprehensive overviews of topics. Unlike Wikipedia, these articles come from easily identified publishers and are usually written and signed, by an expert scholar, so they can be cited in your research project.
Subject Encyclopedias & CQ Researcher for Background Information
If you don't know anything about a topic, CQ Researcher or one of the library's 700 online encylopedias would be a good place to start.
provides in-depth, unbiased analyses of current controversial topics. Each issue provides a broad overview of a single subject including a history of the issue, important government actions, pros and cons, and additional links to books, articles, websites on the topic. Produced by Congressional Quarterly.
includes the full-text content from over 850 encyclopedias and other reference books covering a broad range of subjects. There are over 3 million articles and 200,000+ images (art, diagrams, maps and photos).
Gale Virtual Reference Library
includes the full-text content from over 200 special topic encyclopedias and other reference books.
Subject Encyclopedia Examples
WNC Library has a collection of reference books (encyclopedias, handbooks, and fact books) online - many of them focusing on a single topic or subject. Like Wikipedia, they provide comprehensive overviews of topics. Unlike Wikipedia, these articles come from well-respected publishers and are usually written and signed, by an expert scholar, so they can be cited in your research project. Use the links above to find a subject encyclopedia on your topic. Here are a few examples:
Determine Who, What, When, Where, Why
Knowing the names of individuals, groups, or organizations connected to your topic will help you focus your search on information they've published.
Reading a summary of your topic will help you understand it better. It can also provide you with key words, specialized vocabulary, and definitions, all of which will be useful for future searches. Find summaries using the sources listed above.
If your topic has significant events associated with it, knowing what they are and when they happened will help you choose the best sources to consult. To find primary source documents, look for newspapers and other documents published around the date the event occurred. Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan on March 11, 2011.
Sometimes places are important to a topic. For example, you could search for the place, Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste repository site if you were researching nuclear power and radioactive waste disposal.
Getting background information on why people are interested in your topic can help you develop an approach to your topic or help you craft an argument. For example, why do people like nuclear power and why are they afraid of it?
The Five Ws - created by Highline Community College librarians