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History: Background

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Places to Start

Background Research

These resources will provide some background and help you identify terms specific to your topic.

  • Encyclopedia or Reference source articles 
  • Opposing Viewpoints books & database
  • Introductions and/or first chapters of books and eBooks

Search Terms

Sample Search Term Format

failure AND educat* AND college

fail* OR mistak* AND your topic

success OR achievement OR strengths OR advantages

Search Tips 

Using AND / OR / NOT 

To find a smaller set of results, try combining terms with AND. To find a larger set of results, try combining terms using OR. To find results that leave out certain words, use NOT.


Shortening of a word to its root and adding an asterisk to find results using all variations of the word.

Phrase searching

Put quotation marks around two or more words to search by phrase instead of by the individual words (for example, "social media"). 

Search Terms


Write down words for what you already know about your topic. This helps you clarify what you need to know.

1. Ask an open-ended question (not a yes/no question) about your topic that can be answered by doing research.

2. Pick out the main terms in your question. These are your initial search terms.

3. Think of alternate words, or synonyms, for the main terms.  These can improve your search results.

4. As you search for information sources, note the "official" subject terms used to describe resources on the topic. Using these can help you find additional relevant results.

Library & Learning Resources, City College of San Francisco
50 Frida Kahlo Way, San Francisco, CA 94112 (415) 452-5541