UNST 242C Leading Social Change - Dardis: Get Started

Get to Know Your Topic - Background Information

Before you start searching for sources, you need to know the nuts and bolts of your topic.  Background information will help you:

  • Understand the basic elements of your topic
  • Narrow and focus your research question
  • Determine relevant keywords and search terms
  • Plan your research

Background research can take many forms, such as general googling or reading a wikipedia article.  However, subject encyclopedias are trustworthy, academic sources written by experts on the subject.  Subject encyclopedia entries, or articles, also include a list of references, or further reading on the subject, that you can also use for your research.  

Search subject encyclopedias at Portland State University Library

Brainstorm Keywords

There are multiple ways to describe one idea or object.  Watch this 2 minute video about the importance of synonyms in searching. 

Questions to Ask About Your Topic

As you start doing general reading to get an overview of your topic, here are some questions you may want to answer in your note-taking:

  1. What interests me about this topic?
  2. What questions do I have about this topic?
  3. Who is affected by this? Who cares about this?
  4. What are the major issues involved in this topic? Are there particular controversies or viewpoints of note?
  5. What key terms describe this topic or are there organizations or people I should be aware of?

Subject Encyclopedias

Scholarly subject encyclopedias provide background information about specific topics. Entries or articles, written by scholars or subject experts, include bibliographies or suggested readings that will lead to more information on your topic.

You can use subject encyclopedias to identify keywords for your research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

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