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The importance of background information
When you're starting out on a topic that's new to you, it's often helpful to get a quick overview of that topic before jumping into the details. That gives you some context to help you understand what you're reading. Typically, you won't cite these sources in a bibliography, they're for you to build your own knowledge base. However, these sources will often point you to websites, articles, books, or other resources that you might end up citing.
Some of the best places for these overviews are encyclopedias or other reference sources, yes, including Wikipedia. These overviews should be relatively short and easy to read and follow, and it's always a good idea to look at a couple of different sources from different places to get the best picture.
Credo This link opens in a new window
Credo is a fantastic collection of reference books on a wide variety of subjects. This is one of my first stops when I'm looking for background information or a definition of a new concept.
Oxford Reference This link opens in a new window
Oxford Reference is another great collection with dictionaries and encyclopedias from Oxford University Press.
Science Reference Center This link opens in a new window
Science Reference Center provides easy access to full-text science content including encyclopedias, reference books, periodicals, web sites, pictures, illustrations, audio clips and video clips. Includes ability to limit by lexile reading levels.
CQ Researcher This link opens in a new window
If you're looking at a US political topic (and a lot of your topics will have political aspects), take a look at CQ Researcher, which pulls together reports on many different topics that will give you a good overview.