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Research Process: 1d. Find Background Information

No matter what stage of the research process you're at--only beginning, stuck in the middle, or finishing up with citation polishing--this guide is a great resource for you.

Find Background Information


1d. Once you've identified some key terminology, the next step is to find background information on your topic. Background research serves many purposes:

  • If you are unfamiliar with the topic, it provides a good overview of the subject matter.
  • It helps you identify important facts related to your topic: terminology, dates, events, history, and names or organizations.
  • It may help you refine your topic.
  • It may lead you to bibliographies that you can use to find additional sources of information on your topic.

Background information can be found in the following:

  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries (both online and in print)
  • Textbooks
  • Databases (Some databases contain information sheets, like Cinahl for nursing or the Literature Resource Center for literature.)
  • Secondary articles, or articles that are an overview of a topic

Locating any of the above items takes some skill. You may use an online resource, such as Wikipedia, to gather information. Or you may choose to use one of the library's online encyclopedias, like Credo Reference or the Gale Virtual Reference Library. If you're curious about subject-specific resources for your topic, you may browse a complete list of the Library's guides by visiting the Subject Guide homepage.



General and Subject Encyclopedias

The library has print and online encyclopedias for you to use.

General resources, like the Encyclopedia Britannica will give you a reliable overview of a topic, without putting in a huge amount of detail. This may be a perfect start to informing yourself about a topic you're unfamiliar with. You may also be able to discover author names if the entry on your topic has a byline.

Subject resources, like the Gale Encyclopedia of Cancer, will focus on one subject but will have detailed information on subtopics. 

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