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.
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.
Books in the library catalog are labelled with Library of Congress Subject Headings or LCSH (there is more info about this on the Step 3. Find Materials > Books page of this guide). LCSH are labels that tell you what a book or item is about. These labels are hyperlinked so that you can find other materials about the same topics!
For example, this is what the Subjects or LCSH look like for the book The Psycholinguistics of Bilingualism:
Search for Subject 'exact phrase' Bilingualism and (keyword/ any field) handbook, then limit to eBooks and Print books under 'Resource Type'
These types of resources can help you identify a topic for your research, provide useful definitions, give an overview of a specific issue, help you identify key research in the field, and suggest other materials which might be useful for your research.
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.