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Background Information

Getting some background information before you start researching will help you focus your topic and give you an idea of what to look for in your search. Here are some Reference Databases you can use to get a basic understanding of your topic.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: Over 100 encyclopedias, almanacs, and other reference sources.

Opposing Viewpoints in Context: Features viewpoint articles, and topic overviews on controversial topics.

Keyword Brainstorming

Before you start your research, brainstorm some broader, narrower and/or related keywords to help with your research. These keywords can come from your own knowledge of your topic or from searching background information.

Let's say I am in the beginning stages of my research on Ida B. Wells-Barnett:

Main Keyword 1 Main Keyword 2 Main Keyword 3
Ida B. Wells-Barnett suffrage slavery
Ida B. Wells journalism Tennessee
Iola lynching Free Press

Once you have some Main Keywords, think of specific concepts to focus on: healthcare, workplace discrimination, child rearing, etc. Do some Topic Exploration to come up with these and similar concepts.


You might also take some time to think about what kinds of information you need and the resources you should be using to get that information. Here are some examples:

Historical resources: newspaper articles from the time period, census data, letters, oral histories
Critical analysis: scholarly articles, books 
Definitions and Background Information: biographies, subject encyclopedias

Using AND & OR in a Database

Databases search differently than most search engines. Once you've brainstormed your keywords, you can use the words AND & OR to manipulate your search. Here is an example from the Academic Search Premier database:

 first search box includes terms "Ida B. Wells" OR Iola, second box separated by AND includes terms journalis* or lynching, third search box is separated by AND includes term Tennessee

Librarian tips & tricks! Putting your search term in quotation marks will make sure the database only searches those two terms right next to each other, like "Ida B. Wells". Including an asterisk (*) will truncate your keyword, so journalis* will search for journalist, journalism, etc.

Remember- AND narrows your search while OR broadens it. Think of it like a Venn Diagram:

Venn diagram showing two overlapping circles with overlap highlighted Venn diagram showing two ovelapping circles where both circles are entirely highlighted
Returns results with all of your keywords Returns results with any of your keywords

Find Articles in Databases

General/Multi-Subject Databases: These will bring back results from different disciplines and sources

General OneFile
Academic Search Elite

Subject Databases: These will bring back results from a specific discipline:

Gender and Women's Studies Databases

Religious Studies Databases

America: History & Life: Articles as well as dissertations on the history and culture of the United States and Canada.

ATLA Religion Database: Over 1,700 journals, essays, and book reviews from American Theological Library Association (ATLA)'s print indexes on religion and theology.

GenderWatch: Scholarly journal articles, magazines, newspapers, and more that focus on how gender impacts a broad spectrum of subject areas.

Historical Abstracts: covering the history of the world from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, and history of education.

Consider using databases from other disciplines by browsing the Find Articles by Subject page.

If you need an article or book that we don't have, we can order it from another library through Interlibrary Loan.

Get Help

Gender and Women's Studies librarian:
Anna Fidgeon

Ask A Librarian: Get help by text, e-mail, phone or in-person
Online How-To Guides and Tutorials

Writing Sources

Citing Your Sources: Get help with MLA Style Citations

Annotated Bibliography: Learn what one is and how to do one:

The Writing Center: Make an appointment with a writing consultant to help with all stages of writing your paper.

Plagiarism Explained


Visit the OneSearch FAQ to learn all about how to use the library's new online OneSearch tool to find articles, books and more. Or, watch the How to Use OneSearch video:

What is a Scholarly Article?

Unsure about what it means when an article is scholarly? This video will explain:


It is important to evaluate your sources- even if they're scholarly. Use the CRAAP test as a guideline. This video will explain:

Find an Article From a Citation

Learn more about the components of a citation and how to find an article using one at the Research Therapy Series' Finding an Article From a Citation.

Accessing Library Resources through Google Scholar

Google Scholar

Click on Settings

A screenshot of the home page of the Google Scholar website, with the Google logo and search box. A red arrow is pointed to the link for Settings in the upper right hand corner.

Select Library Links

A screenshot of the upper-left hand corner of the Google Scholar Settings page. There is a list of links for Scholar settings for "search results", "language" and "library links". A red arrow is pointed at "library links"

Search for CSUN, check the box and Save

Screenshot of Google Settings, Library Links page with a search box in the middle showing a search for "CSUN" and the results listing "Open WorldCat- Library Search" and "CSU, Northridge- SFX Find It at CSUN". Both results show a checkmark in the box to their left, with the "CSU Northridge" checkbox circled in red. A red arrow is pointed at the "CSU, Northridge" result and another red arrow is pointed at the Save box at the bottom-right of the results.

If an article is available through a library database, you'll be able to access it by clicking on SFX Find It at CSUN

A screenshot of a Google Scholar Results page, zoomed in on the options to the left of two articles. Links that say "SFX Find It at CSUN" are circled in red.