Landman Library

Getting Background Information

Before you start searching for resources on your topic, it's a good idea to get some background information to get a rough outline of the debate around your topic. What are some of the different positions people take? Where is there consensus? Where do opinions tend to diverge? Are there subtopics that are new to you? People or groups whose perspective you hadn't thought of? Particular vocabulary that people use to talk about that topic?

Getting background information will help you ask questions about your topic, narrow your focus, and articulate a strong topic or research question. Noticing particular language will help you form strong keyword searches.

You can find background information in general sources about your topic, like Wikipedia. Traditional encyclopedias like Britannica are also helpful. The library provides a database called Points of View Reference Center that can also be really helpful for many topics.

Remember that finding background information is different than finding sources that you plan to cite in your paper! Background information is more about getting an introduction to your topic, and you will generally not be citing sources of background information.