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GPS: Food Sustainability

Background Research

Finding background information on your topic is always the recommended starting point, especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic or not sure what angle or perspective you are going to take.

Some of the information that you might want to try to find as part of a background search includes:

  • Broad overview of the topic, including important dates and events 
  • Identifying and defining technical terms and discipline-specific jargon. NOTE: these terms that can then be used as search terms!
  • Introduction to current key issues/debates as well as their historical context
  • Names of people who are authorities/experts/leaders in a given field or research area
  • Bibliographies and citation lists that could lead to additional research resources

The goal of conducting background research is to understand the historical, cultural, and disciplinary context of your topic. 

There are a variety of resources that can provide background information, including reference materials, such as subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries. Books are also a great place to gain a broad overview of a topic, as well as historical context.

Why Use Books for Research?

Books are excellent sources for information such as:

  • Broad overview of a complex topic
  • In-depth information
  • Background and contextual information, such as the history and chronology of a given topic
  • Discovering resources through bibliographies and suggested readings lists

"But I don't have time to read a whole book!" 

It's ok, you don't have to read a book cover to cover! To determine how useful a book might be, first skim through the following parts: 

  • Title Page - look at authors (credentials?), date of publication
  • Table of Contents - look at chapter titles to get an idea what the book is really about. Are any chapters relevant to your topic? You usually don't need to read every chapter, just those that are relevant!
  • Index - Look for specific terms relevant to your topic, also note any potential new terms that can be used later as search terms in a database
  • Preface/Forward/Introduction - usually highlights the author's purpose/intention for writing the book
  • Bibliography (either at the end of each chapter or end of the book) - find additional resources!​