As you gather background information about your topic, your research question may change and that’s okay. Background information should inform you of what’s already known about your topic so that you can ask questions that truly require research to answer. Sometimes background information can be called “reference information.” In fact, there’s a whole section of Norlin Library that has reference materials.
One place you can start is Wikipedia, but be sure to check other sources including library subscription encyclopedias (see links in the "Reference Databases" box). You can use Wikipedia to:
Now that you have done some background searching, and have hopefully picked up a few new keywords along the way, revisit your research question. Can you add more details to it to help you focus in on a more-specific topic? Pausing now to reflect on what you're really interested in will help make your database and catalog searching more efficient and targeted.
If you're still struggling to narrow your topic down, do some more background research or reach out to your instructors and librarian for help.
Reference works like encyclopedias and atlases contain background information that help inform you so that you're ready to do foreground research. What's the difference? Typically scholars do not cite background information because the information is already well known in their field or easy to find. Foreground research is what I call the stuff that you cite - the journal articles, books, and other sources you use to build your arguments and inform your projects and papers.
Explore these databases below to learn more about the context (the people, places, eras, themes) of your research topic. Taking time to do this before diving into the databases can help you search more efficiently later on. Keep your eyes peeled for new keywords!