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Get Background Information

Step 2

What is ‘background information’? It’s reading up on the subject before you make too many decisions about how you’re going to approach your research. It introduces you to a topic before you dive in, pretending to be an expert.

You wouldn’t start to build a house without a floor plan, would you? Surely, you wouldn’t cook a seven course meal without checking on the ingredients you need? For both building a house and preparing an elaborate meal, planning is essential.

Background information serves the same purpose in research. It is the foundation on which you build good research.

Why is background information important?

  1. It helps you to focus on names, dates, events, organizations, terms, etc., associated with a topic.
  2. It can help you to formulate/reformulate your topic (or, to put it another way, it can help you decide whether to broaden or narrow your topic).
  3. Background sources might include bibliographies that you can use to find additional sources for your project.

Where do you find background information?

Encyclopedias are good sources for background information. You may choose to use a general encyclopedia, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, or a specialized encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Education.

The type of specialized encyclopedia you use might depend on the approach you plan to take in your research. For instance, if you need an encyclopedia article on love, there are several options, including Encyclopedia Britannica as a general encyclopedia, or Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopedia of Psychology, and Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality as specialized encyclopedias.

Also, for current interest "hot topics," two other publications, Issues and Controversies and Congressional Quarterly, might be helpful. Both of these titles are frequently available in academic libraries.

Want to know more about specialized encyclopedias? Ask the reference librarian about the ones kept at your library.

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