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Background Information & Books

Before you can start any research on your topic, you must have a background knowledge of it. Books and websites can provide you with that knowledge.

This is important because:

  1. Background sources give you the language that people are using to discuss your topic. You will use this language when you start to search databases for scholarly articles and resources on the topic.
  2. This "pre-research" gives you a sense if your topic is focused enough. If your initial searches bring back so many results you can't even figure out what the language is, then you should consider narrowing your topic.

Remember, background information is always a starting point for research, not an ending point.

Combine Keywords

I’ll be the first to admit it: Brainstorming keywords is a pain. When you’re just starting, it’s hard to predict the best language to use. This is why you will have to try multiple searches. Through this process, you will learn what are the best terms to use.

Now let’s combine your terms into a search statement! You will combine your terms using Boolean Operators: “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT.” 

Narrow

Adding an "AND" between search terms will help you narrow your search. For example, if I combine the terms, “minority students” AND “student organizations” AND participation, in an article database, I will only find articles that contain all of these terms and phrases in them.

“NOT” also narrows your search by excluding terms. It can be helpful for disambiguation purposes. For example, if I were in an astronomy class, and I was studying Pluto, I might search for “Pluto NOT Disney” to eliminate results about the cartoon dog.

Broaden

“OR,” on the other hand, broadens your search. If I search for, “Black Student Union” OR “Student organizations” OR “extra-curricular activities” OR “student clubs” you will find articles that have at least one of these terms in it.