| Research path: find background information
- How can background information help?
- Where can I find background information?
How can background information help?
Look for the big picture
An encyclopedia or other reference sources can be good starting points for information which will introduce you to major concepts on a broad topic. Lengthy articles can outline the subdivisions of a topic, give different perspectives and report recent trends or scholarship.
Get the facts
Important names, dates, places etc. are often mentioned in background sources.
Learn the lingo
Look for key terms, terminology and definitions. Keep these terms in mind when you begin searching for your topic in online databases or the web. And if your need help with “Library Lingo,” check out Library Lingo from Seattle University or use A Primer on Databases and Catalogs from Georgia State University. This module has clear definitions of basic concepts in database searching from types of databases, to how they are structured, as well as basic searching definitions and techniques.
Check the author
Background sources are often written by experts; you may want to look for other works by the same author for your topic.
Locate additional sources
Many sources will include a list of additional readings or a bibliography. These references are often the most important works on a topic.
As you read and gather information, take down notes and begin a list of your sources and references.
Where can I find background information? | back to top
Dictionaries can be a good source for defining terminology. They can also be both general and specific. A general, online source is the Oxford English Dictionary. An example of a subject dictionary with encyclopedic articles is the Dictionary of the Middle Ages (Reference 909.07 D56s).
Encyclopedias are one of the most common sources of background information.There are both general and subject encyclopedias:
- Encyclopedia Britannica is a general, overall encyclopedia.
- An example of a subject encyclopedia is the Encyclopedia of Religion (200.3 En1e).
- An example of an encyclopedia which gives different perspectives is the Encyclopedia of Bioethics (Reference 174.203 En1rr Rev. ed.).
Handbooks and manuals
Handbooks and manuals often give background information on a topic. The Occupational Outlook Handbook contains background information on careers and occupations. The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (Reference 530.7 H66) contains background information, key formulas and references on all facets of these fields of study.