Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Using the Web for Research: Find Background Information


  • You know very little about your research topic, not even the common terms that refer to it
  • You find it difficult to search in the library catalogue and journal databases without having some good background information first


For a quick check, try Google and Wikipedia first to find some background information on your topic. These web resources are not acceptable in a university level research. Do not cite them in your work.

Finding and searching an appropriate encyclopedia can be time-consuming.   

Demonstration: Books

This shows you how to find background information on a given topic, and how to use it as a bridge to scholarly information in books.


  • you want to do research on the woman after whom the programming language ADA was named
  • you know that she is sometimes described as "the first programmer"


  1. Go to Google
  2. Enter search terms: Ada "first programmer" and search
  3. The 1st entry, Ada Lovelace (from Wikipedia), refers to her as "the world's first computer programmer"
  4. It confirms that you have the correct person
    • the page contains some interesting biographical information
    • it links to more information about Ada under Notes, References, and External Links, which could lead to more credible & authoritative sources of information, such as books & articles
  5. Go to the library catalogue, to search on Ada Lovelace
  6. Check the results:
    • consult the books, check their bibliographies for more information
    • if more information is needed, search the catalogue and Research & journal databases for articles

Demonstration: Journal articles

This shows you how to find background information on a given topic, and how to use it as a bridge to scholarly articles.


  • you want to do research on the environmental and pollution aspects of an accident with chemicals that occurred in Seveso, Italy
  • you don't know when the accident happened or what the chemicals were
  • first, search for more information, like the date of the accident and the chemicals involved


Tip: Determining the year when this accident occurred will be useful when you search for journal articles, since it will help identify the relevant research & journal databases.

  1. Go to Google 
  2. Enter search terms: accident chemical Seveso and search
  3. The 1st entry, Seveso disaster (from Wikipedia), informs you that the accident occurred in 1976, and that the accident involved the release of 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), which is a polychlorinated dibenzodioxyn
  4. You now have two additional pieces of information. Use them to search for articles in Research & journal databases.