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Researching a Topic: Getting Background Information

Use this guide to help you work through the various steps of conducting research and locating scholarly sources on a topic.

CQ Researcher & Subject Encyclopedias for Background Information

If you don't know anything about a topic, CQ Researcher or one of the library's 700 online encyclopedias would be the best place to start.

Determine Who, What, When, Where, Why

  • Who
    Knowing the names of individuals, groups, or organizations connected to your topic will help you focus your search on information they've published.

  • What
    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.

  • When
    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.

  • Where
    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.

  • Why
    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?