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Research Process

Get help with any part of the research process.

Taking a few minutes to find background information on your topic will make it much easier to conduct in-depth research on your topic.

Purpose of Background Research

 Background research serves many purposes.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the topic, it provides a good overview of the subject matter.
  • It helps you to identify important facts related to your topic -- terminology, dates, events, history, and names or organizations.
  • It can help you to refine your topic.
  • You might find a list of references that provide a starting point for your resarch.

Sources of Background Information

Background information can be found in:

  • textbooks
  • dictionaries
  • general encyclopedias
  • subject-specific encyclopedias  
  • article databases

Our favorite place to start is with Credo Reference. Find topic pages, encyclopedia articles, or dictionary entires for your topic and keywords.

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Reference on the Web

What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia Logo from Wikimedia CommonsWikipedia can be a great tool, especially for background information or identifying keywords. However, it must be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, Wikipedia itself reminds you to be critical when using the site and warns against citing it as a source.

Wikipedia articles are works in constant progress. They can be edited by anyone, anytime. While the site is making efforts to improve quality and accuracy, it is impossible to keep up with such a large and continually changing resource.

We recommend that you use Wikipedia as a starting point for your research. Learn background information, look for keywords, and discover potential resources for future research, but always verify the information you find in another, more reliable source.

Want to learn more about how to evaluate information on Wikipedia? Check out the site's statement of Reliability on Wikipedia and How to Evaluate a Wikipedia Article.


If you can't find an encyclopedia, dictionary or textbook article on your topic, try using broader keywords or ask a librarian for help.

For example, if your topic is global warming, consider searching for an encyclopedia on the environment.