Finding Background Sources

It's often useful to get look at overviews or background on your subject before you jump into searching for more specific articles. Books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and overview sites and sources can all help you with this. But where do you start for these? Books and reports in the Library Catalog are good for background, broad overviews and more general considerations of a subject.

Encyclopedias: You can find reference sources by choosing Databases and the Dictionaries and Encyclopedias category OR

You can search the Library catalog in Advanced Search for:

encyclopedia  handbook guide (any) as Subjects

+YOUR TOPIC as Keywords

Books: A Keyword search for the general terms or subject areas you are interested in can help you find general overviews of the subject. Once you find at least one useful resource, a look at the subject headings can give you more

su:Agriculture COUNTRY NAME

su:Rural development COUNTRY NAME

su:Watershed management COUNTRY NAME


Background resources on the web: These can give you quick answers understandable to laypeople and some useful context and ideas for other search terms but always verify sources and evaluate what you find! See our guides to evaluating web sites

  • Google: define:TERM (e.g. define:IPM)
  • Wikipedia: Check references at the end to verify source and look at the Talk page to find the article's quality rating (if it's part of WikiProject) or debates that are going on
  • Specialized subject portals 

Useful Background Resources

Looking for Books on a Topic?

Looking for books on a topic? See this tutorial on searching the library catalog to see how to do a very general keyword search for your subject in the library catalog, find a relevant book, check under Availability to see how you can access it in print (look for the library, call number [book location] and availability) or online (look for the full text link), and find the subject headings.

basic search for sustainable building design in catalog