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Gathering Background Information: Search Online Reference Sources

Guide created for The Perch media project.

Getting Started

Using Wikipedia or Google is a good thing!

Your first instinct for quick information is to do an online search using Google or Wikipedia. That is a perfect way to get started! The only way to begin your research is to start seeking out information and freely available resources, like Google and Wikipedia is the easiest way to begin.

The Benefits of Wikipedia:

We all use Wikipedia, even professors and librarians. It's the largest online general reference resource and covers an impressive breadth of general information. 

Since Wikipedia was founded in 2001, it has greatly improved its standards for creating and editing pages. There are now content policies and guidelines in place.

Everyone must have a registered account to create and edit pages and follow Wikipedia's extensive content policies.

Volunteer editors and administrators are quick to remove or take down any misleading or incorrect content.

Wikipedia pages also contain solid references and footnotes citing where the content creator got their information, which makes it easy for people to find potential sources for a research topic.

Watch the video below to learn more about Wikipedia and how to use it effectively. 

Benefits of Using Library Reference Sources

Now that you've learned a little bit about the benefits of using Wikipedia, becoming familiar and using resources here at the UI Libraries should be your next step. At the Libraries, we have many reference tools and resources both in print and online. On this page you'll find several online resources, like Online News Collections and and reference databases like CQ Researcher or Gale Opposing Viewpoints. 

Just as there are benefits of using Wikipedia, there are benefits of using library resources.

First, using the resources and tools the library owns and pays for is a smart use of your money as college students, staff, and faculty. 

Second, using library tools helps you learn college level research skills and makes you a more savvy researcher, overall. Not to mention, using library databases gives you unlimited access to highly credible, peer-reviewed, scholarly literature you will not find on the internet. 

Using Newspapers for Background Research

You can find a wealth of information on just about any topic using online and print newspapers. The University of Iowa Libraries has access to more than hundreds of newspapers, available through our subscriptions. Many of these we have available online. 

Online News Databases

Historical News

The Proquest Historical Newspapers offer full page and article images with searchable full text back to the first issue. Each newspaper collection includes digital reproductions providing access to every page from every available issue.

Users can cross-search titles.

Search Reference Sources

Search some of the Libraries' Reference Resources

Some topics will work better than others in these resources.


Top 5 Online Reference Resources besides Wikipedia

CQ Researcher

Written by experienced journalists, footnoted and professionally fact-checked. CQ Researcher provides in-depth coverage of the most important issues of the day.

Oxford Reference

Multi-part database of the online versions of seminal Oxford University Press texts. Each topical division contains the searchable version of the latest edition of published dictionaries and encyclopedias. 

SAGE eReference

An online collection of reference books covering the social sciences and education, including African American Studies, Aging & Gerontology, Anthropology, Communication and Media Studies, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Economics, Education, Gender & Sexuality Studies, History, Politics, Psychology, Social Issues, Social Work & Social Policy, and Sociology.

Gale Opposing Viewpoints

Opposing Viewpoints in Context offers an engaging online experience for those seeking contextual information and opinions on hundreds of today's hottest social issues. Drawing on the acclaimed Greenhaven Press series, Opposing Viewpoints in Context features continuously updated viewpoints, topic overviews, full-text magazines, academic journals, news articles, primary source documents, statistics, images, videos, audio files and links to vetted websites organized into a user-friendly portal experience