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WHSL Introduction to Research in the Biomedical Sciences: 2. Find Background Information

Helpful information for undertaking the research process in the biomedical sciences

Sources of Background Information

Once you have identified the main topic and keywords for your research, find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. The most common background sources are encyclopedias (including Wikipedia) and dictionaries from the print and online reference collection. Textbooks also provide background information. A very reliable source of background health information is MedlinePlus, which contains a medical dictionary, a medical encyclopedia and many health related topics. MedlinePlus will also list reliable trusted web sites on the topic you have searched, as well as articles in journals. Another reliable web site for background health information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Remember to cross check information from Wikipedia against other reference works, and do not use material from Wikipedia in your reports and assignments, except for the use of definitions. Remember to acknowledge the source (cite) these references as well. 

With kind permission this content is based on original material created by Olin Library Reference, Research & Learning Services, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-non-Commercial-Share-Alike 2.5 License

Using Bibliographies (Lists of References)

Read the background information and note any useful sources (books, journals, etc.) listed in the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article or dictionary entry. The sources cited in the bibliography are good starting points for further research.

  • Look up these references in the e-Wits library catalogue and the WHSL e-Resources in Health Care LibGuide
  • To locate other books on the same subject, check the subject headings listed in the subject field of the online record for these books. MeSH or keyword searches are more helpful in the biomedical sciences than Subject Headings, as this classification system tends to refer to books in other disciplines. Then run subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles.
  • To find journal articles, search the e-databases in your subject field.
  • Remember that many of the books and articles you find will themselves have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional useful resources for your research.

By using this technique of routinely following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a surprisingly large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short time.

With kind permission this content is based on original material created by Olin Library Reference, Research & Learning Services, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-non-Commercial-Share-Alike 2.5 License

Annual Reviews

The Annual Review series is another extremely useful place to find bibliographies on biomedical topics. Every review article has a long bibliography at the end of each article, and also suggests related reviews on the same or similar topics.