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How to find background information

Overview

Background research is an important step in choosing a topic and getting started on your paper. You can use background sources to acquire basic knowledge of your subject, including key facts, issues, or thinkers. Taking the time to find background information helps you to:

  • Understand your subject
  • Clarify your subject’s context
  • Define specialized terms you are not yet familiar with
  • Discover keywords that can be used in later searches
  • Learn about important authors and dates
  • Find additional sources in bibliographies or recommended reading
  • Pick a subject both interesting and well-documented
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Sources of background information

Wikipedia: The famous collaborative encyclopedia that anyone can edit is not a recommended academic source, but it can be a good starting point for the most basic information. However, consider some alternatives: the Concordia Libraries have access to many other sources of background information of similar or better quality, with the added advantage of reliability. For example, try searching hundreds of online encyclopedias at once with the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Encyclopedias: Whether they are in electronic or print format, encyclopedias are the main source of background information in a library. Short and simple, encyclopedia articles cover the important points of a subject. You can find out more about the Concordia Libraries’ collection of encyclopedias here.

Dictionaries: Dictionaries can help you define key concepts or new technical terms. Specialized dictionaries also often contain entries similar to encyclopedias. You can find more about the Concordia Libraries’ collection of dictionaries here.

Handbooks: Handbooks contain concise entries on a subject as well as technical and practical information. You can find more about the Concordia Libraries’ collection of handbooks here.

Newspapers and magazines: Newspapers and magazines can sometimes be good background sources because they summarize key facts and perspectives. Databases like Canadian Newsstand and Eureka.cc allow you to quickly search dozens of newspapers.

Not convinced that background research is worth your time? Watch this video from NCSU Libraries.

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page last updated on: Wednesday 26 August 2015
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