Like 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.
Check out this video from Suffolk County Community College Library to understand how primary, secondary, and tertiary sources vary by discipline.
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:
Remember, background information is always a starting point for research, not an ending point.
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!
Thanks to IUPUI University Library for allowing reuse of this graphic under a Creative Commons license.
What is considered background information can vary by discipline. If you're not sure what it is or where to find it, check out this YouTube video on primary, secondary, and tertiary sources from Suffolk County Library.
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.
LibrarySearch offers a streamlined interface for finding books and other media that combines the collections of UO Libraries and Summit libraries.
Knight Library has a Reference Collection on Level 1 near the Research Help Desk.
Reference works contain background information on a variety of topics related to the major fields of study at the University of Oregon and beyond. Use this information to check facts, look for ideas, and to get an overview of a topic or field. The items in this collection cannot be checked out, they are kept in the building so that all may use them.
Materials can be very specialized in this collection. For example, A Reference Encyclopedia of The American Indian.
Our branch libraries also have reference materials at their locations.