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University 1 Library Guide

Getting started at the University of Manitoba Libraries

Background Reading

Background Reading

Background reading is simply any reading you do on a topic that helps you familiarize yourself with it before beginning academic research. It is especially important to do background reading when you are working with a new topic as you will likely encounter terms and concepts that you can use when searching for academic sources. Even when working with a familiar topic, it can be useful to do some background reading to refresh and widen your understanding. 

Examples of the kinds of resources consulted for background reading include: Newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, dictionaries, professional blogs, educational podcasts, unpublished academic works, government/corporate reports, academic books, and academic articles. 


Encyclopedias are a fantastic place to start when you are researching an unfamiliar topic because the entries in them tend to be brief and written in language that is easier to understand than academic texts. Online encyclopedias have made finding this information even easier as they allow users to search for specific entries without having to flip through the entire book or index.

There are two ways to access encyclopedia entries through the Libraries.

  • If you know the general subject area of the term/concept/person you are looking for then you can search for an encyclopedia on that subject (e.g. Encyclopedia of Virology) and then perform your search within that encyclopedia. If you aren't sure what encyclopedia to look at, the subject guide most relevant to your topic probably has a list of useful encyclopedias. 
  • If you don't know what encyclopedia you want to search in, or you want to search for something in several encyclopedias, then you can perform a normal Library Search and limit your results to "Reference Entries". 

To limit your Library Search to encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference books, use the "reference entries" filter under the Resource Type heading. 

The Steps of the Research Process


The most important part of a successful search is what words you type into the search box. So before you start searching, brainstorm a list of terms to search. These terms might include:

  • Names (of people, organizations, or cultures)
  • Places (communities, cities, countries...etc.)
  • Periods of time (eg. Renaissance music or post-war art)
  • Specific concepts related to your topic

Some questions to ask yourself that might help you come up with terms are:

  • What is the relevant context of this topic? 
  • Are there synonyms for any of your search terms? Do people use different terms to refer to the same concept?
  • What potential effects or implications do you see for your topic?

As you search, you will come across relevant information that uses other terms. Write these down too and try incorporating them into your searches.

Be aware that, whether consciously or unconsciously, during the search process you are constantly evaluating the information you find – so think about how you’ll evaluate sources before you start searching. (See ‘Evaluate.’) Be aware that you’re unlikely to find multiple sources that fit your exact topic. Instead you will find information that is relevant to some aspects of your essay, but not others. That's ok - your job is to take the relevant information out of those sources and synthesize it in your own essay.


Type some of the search terms you identified (see Think) into the search box on the libraries' homepage. This will take you to a search results page. Sign In with your UMNetID and password (you’ll be redirected back to your search results).

Tip: Scroll through and identify relevant results. Click the pin icon pin icon beside any title, and it will be saved to your library account to find more easily later.

Tip: If an item includes the peer reviewed icon  it comes from a peer reviewed journal. 

Tip: The column on the left side of the screen contains ‘filters’ that will limit your results by date, format, or other criteria.

If you aren't finding relevant results, think about how you enter your terms and combine them. We often forget that search engines are computers and aren't able to understand language in the same way that humans do. Because of this, we sometimes have to use extra strategies to help the computer understand what we are asking it to search for. 

Check out the Search Skills page on this guide for more tips to improve your searches.

If you already know the name of a book or article and just need to access it, type the title in the search bar, find it in the results, and find out how to access the item (see Access)


Once you have found something of interest, sign in with your UMNetID.

  • Items that are available online will have a green Full Text Available link: Full Text Available link
    Clicking that link will bring you to a list of one or more blue links, each of which will give you access to the item. See how it works.
  • Items that are available in paper copies: under the title, find where it says “Available at” to determine the library location and the call number. Click Map It! Map it button to find its location within the library, and write down the Shelf # to help you find it.
  • Tip: If the item is not available, use the Request button to request that it be recalled from its current borrower within a week.


Think critically about how relevant and credible a source is. The CRAAP Test is a useful way to break down the task of evaluating a resource. 

  • Currency - How recently was the source published or last updated? How current are the sources the author cites? There isn’t a hard and fast rule on how current something should be to be useful, so think critically and ask for help if you need it. 
  • Relevancy - Does the information relate to your topic and help you answer your research question? Who is the intended audience?
  • Authority - Who is the author? What is their background? Are they affiliated with any organizations? Are they recognized as an expert in the area they are writing about?
  • Accuracy - Where did this information come from? Is it supported by evidence? Has the information been peer reviewed or referenced by other experts in the field?
  • Purpose - What is the purpose of the publication? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade? Do the authors make their intentions clear?

Remember that when a professor asks you to use 'academic' or 'scholarly' sources, they often mean peer reviewed sources (Find peer reviewed sources). Make sure to check with your professor about what types of sources they will accept for your assignments.

Using peer reviewed sources makes the evaluation process easier because research that has undergone the peer review process and been approved is awarded some amount of Authority and Accuracy. Of course it is still important to think critically about anything you read and come to your own conclusions about the validity of its argument. 


Any time you use the information or ideas of another scholar in your work (whether you are paraphrasing or using a direct quotation), you have to give credit for that information in the form of a citation. The exact form these citations take depends on what citation style you are using. In your first year of university you will most likely be asked to cite in APA style in a majority of your classes. 

The Libraries has created videos that briefly explain the format of citations and references in APA, as well as the general process of quoting and paraphrasing.

We also offer handouts as go-to sources for the mechanics of citations and references in APAMLA, and Chicago. You can find resources on other citation styles here.

What's a research article?

What's an "academic" or "peer reviewed" article?

For a research essay assignment, an instructor might ask you to find an academic, scholarly, or peer-reviewed article. These terms are usually used interchangeably. Articles are pieces of research that are published in journals. Journals usually publish multiple issues each year, like magazines, so they hold very current information. 

Before publication, peer-reviewed articles are examined by researchers in the field of interest, to make sure that the information is credible.

If your assignment asks for empirical research, you are looking for an article that has original findings. Usually, these articles will have headings such as: methods, results, and discussion.

Blog posts, newspaper articles, magazine articles, or association websites do not typically qualify as academic material and are usually not used for academic assignments, even though they may be otherwise credible sources.

Research articles are easily accessed through databases (websites) provided by the University of Manitoba Libraries. To find and access journal articles, type your topic into the search box on the Libraries' homepage, which searches many databases at the same time.

Citation Tracking / Chaining

Citation Tracking

Citation tracking (also called citation chaining or citation chasing) is an alternative form of searching in which you use the references of a resource to find additional relevant materials. 

Citation tracking can be accomplished in a number of ways. The most basic method is simply to read over the reference list of a source for titles that sound relevant to your research topic. When you find an item you are interested in, use the Library Search to see if it is in the U of M's collection. If we do not have access to the item at the University of Manitoba, you can request the item from another institution through the document delivery service. 

Citation Tracking in Library Search

While using Library Search, notice that some results will include symbols of arrows either diverging or converging (shown in the image below). These buttons stand for "Find sources citing this" and "Find sources cited in this" respectively, and clicking on them will bring you to a list of sources that the Libraries has access to which either reference or are referenced by the original item. It is important to note that this list only includes items from the Libraries collections and is not a complete list of citations from the original source. 

These tools also appear at the bottom of the full library record, as shown in the image below.


Citation tracking may seem like a magical replacement for traditional keyword searching at first, but it has its own limitations. It is important to use citation chaining alongside keyword searching to ensure that you are finding as many relevant sources as possible. If you rely solely on items found through citation chaining you run the risk of missing out on relevant and potentially more useful sources that could be found in a keyword search.

Finally, remember to evaluate every source you find for Currency, Relevancy, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Just because a resource fit the needs of another author does not mean that it will meet your needs. It is up to you to evaluate your sources before weaving them into your work.