Skip to Main Content

SI 501 Fall 2023: Contextual Inquiry and Consulting Foundations (Drinking Water)

This guide provides resources for SI 501 students working on their background research project

Strategies for doing background research

There are many different types of information you can search for, related to your topics and/or the organizations with which you're working. You can look for information produced by the organization itself; research the broader issues relevant to your problem or organization; find news about an organization or topic; or find research (statistics, studies, or other scholarly content) on an issue, industry or topic.

Getting started


Find news articles about the organization, an institution, event, industry or topic. Search specialized categories of news sources - such as business or trade news, or news focused around a particular industry (higher education, advertising, entertainment industry, etc.)

Statistics (or other factual information)

Find measurements of activities, characteristics or behaviors related to an issue, topic or industry. Or demographics about a group of people, possibly your client's customers or users (for example, Michigan residents, or U.S. college students).  Think about who (what organization, which stakeholders) would have an interest in asking/answering questions about a topic or industry, and that may lead to sources of relevant statistics (i.e., the American Library Association probably produces statistics on the number and type of libraries in the U.S.).

About your organization/industry/topic/institution

If you're working with a particular organization, be sure to check their own website for basic information about that organization. If the unit you're helping is part of a larger organization (i.e., the University of Michigan), start with information produced by that institution, about its makeup, activities, etc. If you are working with a commercial business, look for annual reports, organizational charts, or white papers. Pay attention to the language they use to describe their own work. Use this information as a starting point - you can then find more information on the relevant community/market/audience/industry/sector. If you can't find it elsewhere, don't be afraid to ask your clients directly for the best source of information about themselves or their industry. 

Scholarly content

Use scholarly article databases to search for current research studies on a particular behavior, activity, or topic. Conducting a literature review means analyzing past research, identifying the most influential scholars in an area, and tying these concepts to the particular problem/issue/topic at hand.

Library Search (across many types of sources)

Not sure where to start your search?  Try Library Search to see results from the catalog, articles, databases, online journals and library website pages.

Library Search


Other relevant research guides