I recommend that you follow these steps:
Step 1: Reread the assignment description
Step 2: Find a topic
Step 3: Find overviews (background information) about your topic
Step 4: Find sources
Step 5: Read!
Step 6: Write your paper, or plan your presentation -- and cite your sources
Use Quest to search the library's physical collection and the contents of most of the library's electronic databases.
"Background information" means short overviews or summaries of a topic. It's also sometimes called, misleadingly, "tertiary sources" (even though it's not literally third-hand information).
The top Google results for any given topic are usually background information, including sites such as Wikipedia. You can also find background information in print encyclopedias. Simpson Library has a large collection of print encyclopedias in the Reference section on the first floor.
Background information is really useful. It's meant to be used when you're first starting your research. It helps you familiarize yourself with a new topic. However, do not cite background information. The reason why you shouldn't cite it is that it is not original. It merely repeats and summarizes what other people have said. It's better to get the information straight from the original source.
I recommend the following encyclopedias for background information:
Databases that contain primary sources
Some primary sources, such as photographs or videos, are freely available online, but some are only in library databases. Quest can help you find some primary sources, such as newspaper articles. However, most of our newspaper databases are NOT included in Quest. Some of our newspaper databases are listed below; the rest are listed here.
Databases that contain secondary sources
You can use Quest to search many databases simultaneously, or search databases one-at-a-time to focus on particular subjects (such as history). I particularly recommend the following database, which provides secondary sources about American history:
Use Quest to discover books in the library, and then use call numbers to find those books on the shelves. Here's an explanation of how our call numbers work.
You can check out as many books as you want, and keep each book for five weeks. You can also renew books to keep them longer.
Advice and recommendations for FSEMs in general, and for History research.
The Citing Resources guide gives you examples of perfectly-formatted citations. Zotero is a free app that keeps track of the sources you've found, and generates citations without any typing.