Initial use of search engines designed to access a large volume of materials can be helpful in scanning the literature on a particular topic and obtaining an initial understanding of how scholars, journalists, and others have studied your topic of interest. The USC Libraries' search engine only accesses materials owned by the library, but it can be a good place to obtain background information from a variety of scholarly and non-scholarly sources. Google Scholar covers a much broader array of [mostly] scholarly resources but not everything you find may be accessible.
The search option on the USC Libraries main web page provides a single search box with comprehensive access to print and online books, selected digital resources, and full-text journal, magazine, and newspaper articles owned by the USC Libraries or accessible online through subscriptions. Information about using the Libraries' search engine can be found here.
Google Scholar provides access to mostly scholarly [i.e., peer-reviewed, academic] sources, including scholarly titles from Google Book Search. The search engine has a "Cited by" feature that allows you to track where a particular source has been subsequently cited after publication. Information about using Google Scholar can be found here.
The full-text and keyword searchable databases listed below enable you to search the contents of dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopedias, and other reference books in a variety of subject areas or to find scholarly summaries of topics. These databases can be a good place to locate definitive, unbiased explanations of key concepts, theories, and topics as well as biographic profiles and descriptions of historic events. Most of these databases are multidisciplinary and some of their content overlaps, but search more than one database as needed to gain a thorough description of your topic.