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FINDING BACKGROUND INFORMATION

A good way to begin your research is to locate and read articles (or book chapters) that will give you a broad overview of a topic. You can find background articles in a variety of reference materials - books, encyclopedias, journals and magazines. Also. these resources often provide bibliographies - lists of books and articles that will allow you to discover what else is available on a subject.

Research Tip: Once you've settled on a subject area for your extended essay, it's a good idea to keep copies of all the articles that you read. First of all, having a copy - whether its printed from a periodical database of the Internet of photocopied from a print resource - will allow you to highlight as you read and give you a place to make notations in the margins. Whenever you make a copy of an article or chapter in a book, make sure you have page numbers and all reference documentation that you;'ll need for a works cited page. You never want to go back and reconstruct a reference citation after the fact. It is too difficult and time consuming and often like trying to find a needle in a haystack!

Sources for locating Background Information

General encyclopedias: Since they are designed to cover all branches of knowledge, general encyclopedias are likely to have some information on every topic. They are good sources to consult first, since they introduce the main concepts about a subject and suggest other sources that may be helpful. Our media center has several encyclopedias and you can find on-line encyclopedias in the Alberta Online Reference Centre or the Gale databases (Passwords for home available from the Media Centre). You can also look in the Librarian's Index to the Internet.. Finding information in general encyclopedias requires only that you do a subject heading or keyword search.

Specialized / Subject Specific Encyclopedias: Specialized or subject specific Encyclopedias provide more detailed articles written by experts in a field. There are hundreds of specialized encyclopedias. Bibliographies on these sources tend to be more comprehensive that bibliographies in general encyclopedias. To locate encyclopedias on specific subject, do a search in the online catalogue (Lester B. Pearson's Webcat) for your subject, followed by "encyclopedias". You should consult the index of any specialized encyclopedia - it will cover topics and list keywords in more detail that any table of contents. If the encyclopedia is part of a set, often the index for the whole set is located in the last volume of the set. Be aware that specialized encyclopedias are often locate in a library's reference collection and are only available for overnight checkout. You should be prepared to photocopy articles. The Librarian's Index to the Internet: has specialized free on-line encyclopedias.

Almanacs and Handbooks: Almanacs are filled with up-to-date answers to all kinds of questions. Whether you are looking for basic statistics on provincial funding of welfare programs or recent winners of the Stanley Cup, you are likely to find the information in an almanac. They provide figures, charts, tables, and statistics. Handbooks supply comprehensive, concise factual information on a particular topic. Generally handbooks will contain charts, formulas, tables, statistical data, and historical background. Because they are updated frequently, handbooks include information about nes developments and refernces to other resources. Be aware that any "fact" book containing current data is already out-of date by the time it is published. Almanacs in particular are based on the previous year's statictics. The Statistics Canada Web Site (http://estat.statcan.ca/) will have more up-to-date information. (The passwords are on the LBP Database bookmark.)

Articles from Periodical Databases:  Sometimes articles in newspapers or general interest periodicals (Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, etc.) can provide a quick overview of a subject. These articles are typically meant for the everyday reader and typically do not contain references to other resources. However, you can use one of the library's full text databases to find these articles and peer reviewed articles that are written by professionals in a particular field. Journal articles—those written by specialists in a subject area—do often contain bibliographical references to other sources. To give your own research credibility, it is best to cite articles written for peer-reviewed journals.

Biographical Sources: Your research may require that you learn something about a person without having to read a full-length biography. The Lester B. Pearson Media Centre owns several biographical reference works that provide relatively brief articles about thousands of people. You can always expect to find something about the most famous people, but it may be possible to find something about fairly obscure people as well. Searching "biographical dictionaries" in the Webcat Online catalog should help you locate a list of those resources. Again, you will need to consult the index for a full listing of persons contained in a biographical dictionary.

Other Resources via the Online Catalog (e-Library) : You can also find background information through a keyword search of the online catalog. Search for your broad topic with keywords like latin american history, or history latin america. (Note that online searching does not require the use of capital letters.)

 

Research Tip: Pay attention to the copyright date of print resources. Consider the date of publication in relation to your chosen topic. If you are writing about a topic from an historical viewpoint, a copyright from the 60s or 70s may be appropriate. All libraries have books in their collections that need to be "weeded " out, but many are still on the shelves. Just because a book is in the collection doesn't mean it's the best resource to use.

You will also find that many, many, many of the best resources are only available in print, so don't ignore books! Not everything is available on the Internet! Remember—copyrighted material is not freely distributed via the "public" Internet.

 

How to Use These Resources Most Effectively