See the big picture
An encyclopedia or other reference source can be a good starting point for learning about major concepts on a broad topic. Lengthy articles can outline the subdivisions of a topic, give different perspectives, and report recent trends or scholarship.
Get the facts
Important names, dates, places etc… are often mentioned in background sources.
Learn the lingo
Look for key terms, terminology, and definitions. Keep these terms in mind when you begin searching for your topic in online databases or the web.
Check out the author
Background sources are often written by experts; you may want to look for other works by the same author for your topic.
Locate additional sources
Many sources will include a list of additional readings or a bibliography. These references are often the most important works on a topic.
Image source:Todd Fong
For background information on "hot topics" in the news, try:
|CQ Researcher: A good starting point on current news including science, education, politics and economics.|
|Issues and Controversies: From Facts on File, find summaries on current issues and controversies in political, economic, social and scientific topics.|
Encyclopedias are one of the most common sources of background information. There are both general and subject encyclopedias:
Here are a few examples from SAGE and GVRL that Lemieux Library offers:
Dictionaries can be a good source for defining terminology, and like encyclopedias, can be general or specific. A general online souce is the Oxford English Dictionary.
Examples of subject dictionaries: