HI 3334: Topics in American Science and Technology: Science in Public

Professor Constance Clark

Need Help? Ask Us!

If the chat is not available, please feel free to email us at library@wpi.edu or you can make an appointment with a librarian at http://wpi.libcal.com/appointments/ 

Getting Started: Encyclopedias and Background Information

Use encyclopedias to find background information on your topic. These sources can help you to find research topics or to narrow down a research topic. Background sources can also help you learn the vocabulary used to describe your topic. This new vocabulary will help you with your keyword searches. 

Helpful sources for background information include:

Helpful Websites

Evaluate Your Sources

When you find a new source of information (such as an online article, a news story, a scholarly journal article, or a book), ask yourself the following questions about the source: 

Who?

Who is the author, editor, or creator? Is the author qualified to write about this topic?

What?

What type of document is it? For example, is it a newspaper article? A blog? A government website? A scholarly article? A book?

What is it about?

When?

When was this source published? Is the information up-to-date? 

Where?

Where did you find the source? A library database? A website?

For websites, what is the URL ending? For example, .com? .gov? .org? .edu?

Why?

What was the goal of the author or publisher? Is there bias?

How?

How did the author gather data and information? Did the author include citations? Did the author derive reasonable conclusions from the research?

The answers to these questions will help you to answer the big picture questions about the source:

  • Credibility: Is the source reliable?  
  • Relevance: Does the source suit your research needs?