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Find Background Information

What is background information?

  • Background information is a brief overview of a topic.
  • Background information resources are general reference sources, which offer broad facts that are foundational to a topic and aid in its comprehension and analysis.
  • Background information includes: definitions, key terms, important people, key events or dates, significant locations, a bibliography related to the topic (i.e., list of suggested sources by scholars or experts in the field) and more.
  • Be careful and conscious of selecting your background resource tools. Always be critical of where the information is coming from to avoid founding research on unreliable information. 
    • For example, although Wikipedia is useful for general queries, its accuracy can be questioned because its contributors are variable. Use resources like Wikipedia with an informed understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.
  • A great way to begin your research is to examine a topic’s background information. This will aid in contextualizing your arguments and possibly in further brainstorming.
  • Time and effort spent on this phase of research can save an incredible amount of time in future, more specific explorations of the topic.

What should background information include?

  • Who: 
    • Names of individuals, groups, or organizations connected to your topic.
  • What: 
    • A summary of your topic will help you understand it better. This can also help you come up with search words, specialized vocabulary, and definitions.
  • When: 
    • If your topic has key events associated with it, knowing what they are and when they happened will help you choose the best sources.
  • Where: 
    • Similarly, the location and circumstances of the topic are important.
  • Why: 
    • Knowing why your topic is important can help guide your approach in creating a thesis or argument and joining the larger scholarly conversation.

What are examples of background information resources?

  • Almanacs
  • Atlas & Maps
  • Bibliographies
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedia
  • Etymological Dictionary
  • Handbooks
  • Statistical Resources
  • Thesaurus

Find Background Information

Resources to Help with Research

Guide: find scholarly articlesVideo: Cite Your Sources: When / Why to CiteGuide: Choose the Best Info

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