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College Writing: Official Guide

Identifying Your Information Need

It can be difficult to determine the type(s) of information you may need for your coursework or research assignments. It is easy when your instructor states that you can only use scholarly/peer-reviewed articles for an assignment. But what about when your instructor states to use information that best fits the assignment? Should you only use scholarly/peer-reviewed articles or would a newspaper article be best? There is so much information available to you today that it can be difficult to determine what type of information you should use for an assignment.

There is no wrong type of information to use for an assignment, you just need to evaluate the information source to determine if it is a "best" fit for your assignment.

For each of the following types of resources there might be valid reasons for using them:

  • Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
  • Magazine Articles
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Books/E-Books
  • Blog Postings
  • Videos
  • Twitter Posts

Gathering Background Information

After you have identified your topic (including your primary source), you will want to gather some additional background information or a broad overview of the topic. These sources may also provide you with ideas for narrowing your topic or for selecting keyword(s) to use for searching.

Once you have found your background information/broad overview, you can then move onto more detailed information about your topic which might include scholarly/peer-reviewed articles.

The chart below provides examples of places where you can find background information, broad overviews of topics, and detailed information about a topic.

Background Information

Broad Overview

Detailed Information

You probably already look at Wikipedia. It's a good place to start to get background information on a topic.

Try searching the Library Catalog for books to give you a topic overview.

You probably already use Google Scholar. It's a great starting point. Make sure you are connected to WUSTL Libraries in your settings!

Try Gale Virtual Reference Library for thorough background information on a topic. 

Have you thought about CQ Researcher? This gives you multiple types of sources for a topic overview.

Academic Search Complete could give you more access to detailed information, such as scholarly/peer-reviewed journal articles. 

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Need More Background Information?

The titles below are a mere sample of all the subject encyclopedias available.  Some are in print and others are online.

To find additional encyclopedias, you can search the Classic Catalog and add the word encyclopedia to your keyword search.

To access encyclopedias that are listed as e-books, click on the link that says Connect To: WUSTL Full Text.

Please be aware that print encyclopedia may be available in libraries outside of Olin. To determine where the encyclopedia is located, look at the Location information on the record.

The encyclopedias have been grouped by subject. Example: <Subject>: Title