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HIST 1260: Modern America

What is a Pre-search?

The pre-search is the very first phase of academic writing. All researchers, no matter how seasoned, goes through the information gathering stage in order to better understand both their research question, as well as the topic they are studying. Gathering basic information about context, timelines, alternative terms, and key figures will help simplify the academic research process. This page offers you resources to help you find this foundational information, as well as questions you may want to answer to help guide the research phase.

Sources to help your pre-search

Bellow are some library databases that will help in the gathering of background and context information. When looking through these sources pay particularly close attention to the names of scholars and historical figures that feature prominently, as well as keywords that you can use when stating research in the academic databases. 

Questions to help your pre-search

When get started in your pre-search, there are some basic questions you want to ask yourself.

What is the assignment criteria?
Make a list of the assignment criteria

  • What kinds of sources am I allowed to use?
  • How many sources should I have?
  • Is there a time frame for your sources? (this mostly pertains to secondary source)

If you have any questions about your assignment - now is the time to clarify them with your professor.

What information do you need?

After making sure you understand the criteria outlined in the assignment, ask yourself what information would help you answer your research question? 

Background and context might include:

  • finding definitions or explanations for unknown terms or vocabulary related to your topic
  • finding examples 
  • identifying key figures involved in the discussion (stakeholders or interested parties)
  • identifying events related to your topic
  • considering related concepts
  • understanding the history and/or timeline

Helpful Hit: The sources you find in your pre-search are most likely NOT the sources you will eventually cite in your research papers. The pre-search sources are for the purpose of solidifying your understanding and help you generate search terms before you begin searching for scholarly/peer-reviewed articles or studies.