Skip to main content
Michigan State University

WS201 Online, Summer 2017: Finding Background Information Online

Online Encyclopedias

On this page you'll find links to some important subject encyclopedias on women and women's issues. Not all subject encyclopedias in our collection are online, though. If you need help finding background info, Ask a Librarian!

Why look for background info?

A basic principle of research:

Go from the general to the specific.

Imagine that you're interested in the experiences of Appalachian women during the Depression of the 1930s. That's a very big topic for a single paper, but a great starting point.

You could begin by checking an encyclopedia for a brief history of the Appalachian region, and for an overview of the Depression.

You might learn, for example, that the Tennessee Valley Authority was established in 1933 to create jobs and generate electricity by building dams on the Tennessee River. Jobs and electricity were badly needed, but TVA projects also displaced thousands of families who lived near the dam sites.

This background info suggests one way to narrow your topic: You could research how women and families were affected by the building of dams on the Tennessee River. Did the rate of poverty change? Were extended families affected by displacement? ...and so on.

In high school you were probably advised not to use encyclopedias for research. That is still true. Encyclopedia articles should not be the major sources for your paper.

However, checking an encyclopedia can help you understand context and background, and focus your topic to a manageable size.

Michigan State University