Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
University of Oregon
UO Libraries

WR 123: Written Reasoning in the Context of Research

Resources for all sections of Writing 123 College Composition III courses at the University of Oregon

Step 2 - Finding Background Information

Tree icon from Noun ProjectLike the roots of a tree, background information is not always visible but it does play an important role in your research.

Starting research often means finding an overview of a topic, checking facts and data, checking dates of significant events, or looking up definitions of specialized terms. Reference books can give background information, including the scope of the topic area, noteworthy people, and statistics to help jumpstart your research.

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources (Video Tutorial)

Check out this video from Suffolk County Community College Library to understand how primary, secondary, and tertiary sources vary by discipline.

 

Background Info/Reference Databases - General Subjects

Before you start any research on your topic, you must develop some background knowledge including facts, dates, and names of important people, places, or theories. Books and websites can provide you with that knowledge.

This is important because:

  1. Background sources give you the language that people are using to discuss your topic. You will use this language (look for keywords!) when you start to search databases for scholarly articles and resources on the topic.
  2. This "pre-research" gives you a sense if your topic is focused enough. If your initial searches bring back so many results you can't even figure out what the language is, then you should consider narrowing your topic.

Remember, background information is always a starting point for research, not an ending point.

Library Reference Subscription Databases
Open Web (Free) Resources

Using Wikipedia for Research (Infographic)

In addition to being a great place to start exploring an unfamiliar topic, Wikipedia is considered a tertiary source. Writers of tertiary sources synthesize information from secondary sources and strive to report them in a tone that is as unbiased and neutral as possible. 

Some tertiary sources are cited in academic research and others are not. This practice varies by discipline so contact your instructor or a librarian with questions!

 

Infographic about using Wikipedia for research

Long description of "Using Wikipedia for Research" for web accessibility

Thanks to IUPUI University Library for allowing reuse of this graphic under a Creative Commons license.

Step 2: Pause to Reflect

Person icon with thought bubbleWhat is considered background information can vary by discipline. If you're not sure what it is or where to find it, revisit the YouTube video on primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in this guide. 

Are you citing background information in your research paper/project? You can always check with your instructor to see if that is acceptable for the assignment or within your discipline/major.

University of Oregon Libraries
1501 Kincaid Street Eugene, OR
97403-1299
T: (541) 346-3053
F: (541) 346-3485
Make a Gift