IRW 115 - Fierman Spring '21: Background research

Guide for Danica Fierman's IRW 115 class

Background Research

Before you can formulate a researchable question, you need think about topics and learn a little big about them. Start your research project by doing some background reading.  This will help you to understand the context of your topic so can formulate good questions and research more effectively.  You may also decide that you want to change the focus of your research as you learn more about your topic.  Your background readings will also help you identify keywords you can use in your searching as you continue your research.

Questions to Ask About Your Topic

As you start doing general reading to get an overview of your topic, here are some questions you may want to answer in your note-taking:

  1. What interests me about this topic?
  2. What questions do I have about this topic?
  3. Who is affected by this? Who cares about this?
  4. What are the major issues involved in this topic? Are there particular controversies or viewpoints of note?
  5. What key terms describe this topic or are there organizations or people should I be aware of?

Sources for Background Research

Brainstorm Keywords for Searching

As you read about your topic, make a note of search terms that will be useful for finding articles on your topic.  When you are searching Google or other search engines, you can use "natural language" searching - just type in your whole question and you may find exactly what you want.  Database searching and advanced Google searching requires more precise use of search terms. 

Watch the 2 minute video from Portland State University below for some useful tips.