Background research is essential but it is often overlooked. If the topic is unfamiliar, or you are not sure what angle or approach you want to take, then background research is mandatory. Reference books such as encyclopedias, pro/con databases, and credible web sites are a good place to start.
What about Wikipedia? Generally, most professors do not want you to cite Wikipedia as a source. You can use it to help familiarize yourself with a topic, but always verify the information you find with other sources. Leave it off your Works Cited page unless given specific permission from your instructor. For more information regarding Wikipedia in college-level research review The Pros & Cons Of Wikipedia
This guide will use the general topic of Fracking as an example to demonstrate the research process.
The following databases provide sources for background information on a wide variety of topics:
Google can be used to help find credible websites by using a domain search. See the example search below on a useful command to target specific websites in Google. You can also add .edu, .org, .mil and other domains using site: followed by a specific domain after any keywords.
Using Advanced Google doesn't actually help you find a scholarly source. It only helps you limit your search to certain kinds of web pages. Still, like the domain search above, these tools may help you filter out the less credible web sites so that it's easier to find the good ones.
Suggested Advanced Searching Tools
Phrase Search: Putting the name of your search in quotation marks will ensure you get results with the entire phrase, not just certain words, ex. "benefits of fracking"
Truncation: Using an asterisk after the root word will search all variations of endings, ex. fracking regulat* will find regulated, regulations, regulate, regulator
Click the little plus sign where it says Date, Usage, Rights, Region and More. By date, click the drop-down menu to select a date range that works for your topic. Understand this is not necessarily when the article or information was written, so it doesn't guarantee an up-to-date article. It just means when the site was last updated.
This is a nifty little tool that's not often used. In this drop down menu, try "In Links to The Page." It means you'll get results that people linked to with your search words. For example, imagine you are searching for crime statistics. Wouldn't you love to find a link that actually said "Crime Statistics?" You'd expect that page to be very relevant to your search! This option finds those pages for you.
Another powerful and little used tool. Try this: limit to Adobe .PDF and set your domain search to .edu or .gov. This usually delivers high quality and often published articles from credible journals, government departments and white papers.