Skip to main content
Before you start

Background research is essential for understanding concepts, terms, events, places and people who shape your topic. This knowledge base needs to be built *BEFORE* you start your formal research. Use this information to broaden or narrow your topic, formulate research questions, and build keywords. 

Use encyclopedias and database articles to help fill in your background knowledge of your topic. 

To find encyclopedias and database options go to the Library page on your school's website (under Resources). 

Quick Guide 

Use these ABCs as a guide to critically evaluate information on the Web.

Who or what organization is publishing the content? Do they have the knowledge and expertise to publish information about this topic? Look in the About Us or Contact section of a site.  

Is this a commercial site that is trying to sell a service or a product? Does there appear to be a bias in how information is presented? Are there multiple points-of-view analyzed and expressed?  

Is the information correct? Read background information about your topic from a reputable source such as a database first and look for multiple sources. 

Is there a publication or update date attached to the article or site? Look at the end of an entry or the bottom of a page.

Teaching Students How to Research

Evaluating Websites

Always evaluate websites for information quality and reliability because anyone with a bit of knowledge about computers and the Internet can put information on the World Wide Web. 

Research for school is different from personal research because academic research requires current, correct, and well-documented information written by institutions/people who are authorities on their subjects.   

What is a credible website?
Evaluating Tutorial


Types / Formats of Information


ARTPainting, photograph, object, etc. you can see in a museum or public space or online.

BLOGblogAn online source read through a Web browser, composed of dated posts.


"Printed" work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on  paper bound within covers -- may be electronic

IMAGESIMAGESIncluding graphs and charts: a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.  INTERVIEWSINTERVIEWSSpeaking to an expert with specific questions to gain primary source information.

MAGAZINESMAGAZINESOnline* or print. May contain articles, interviews, reviews, analysis, etc. A.K.A. "periodicals" 

*may be available via databases

NEWSPAPERSnewspapersOnline* or print. Contain local news, photos, investigative reports, advertisements, and editorials.

*may be available via databases

PAMPHLETSPAMPHLETSMay be posted online or obtained physically from local organizations. Succinct...often have referrals for local experts.

REFERENCEreferenceResources organized to provide quick access to facts, statistics, overview of subject matter, definitions, etc.


VIDEO/AUDIOvideo and audioMay be clips or a full work. Must be evaluted and cited like any other source of information regardless of where or how it is obtained. WEBSITESWEBSITESAn online source viewed thru a Web browser as a stand-alone page or collection of pages. Content may change so note the date of use.