Skip to main content

HU 3900: Inquiry Seminar - Business History of Modern China

Getting Started: Encyclopedias and Background Information

Look for background information in encyclopedias and other online sources. Use these sources 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. 

These aren’t necessarily sources that you will cite in your paper, just sources to provide you with background information and relevant vocabulary.

Helpful sources for background information include: 

Evaluating Information

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 publication date appropriate for your topic?

Where?

Where did you find the source? An academic journal? A library database? A website?

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

Is there a doi (digital object identifier)?

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 detailed 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?