To Learn Background Information

When you first get a research assignment, and perhaps for a considerable time afterward, you will almost always have to learn some background information as you develop your research question and explore how to answer it.

Sources from any category and from any subgroup within a category can meet students’ need to learn background information and understand a variety of perspectives—except journal articles, which are usually too specific to be background. From easy-to-understand to more complex sources, read and/or view those that advance your knowledge and understanding.

For instance, especially while you are getting started, secondary sources that synthesize an event or work of art and tertiary sources such as guidebooks can be a big help. Wikipedia is a good tertiary source of background information.

Sources you use for background information don’t have to be sources that you cite in your final report, although some may be.

Resources to Learn Background Information

  • Quantitative or Qualitative: Either—whatever advances your knowledge
  • Fact or Opinion: Any—whatever advances your knowledge
  • Scholarly, Professional, or Popular: Any—whatever advances your knowledge
  • Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary: Any—whatever advances your knowledge
  • Publication Format: Any—whatever advances your knowledge

One important reason for finding background information is to learn the language that professionals and scholars have used when writing about your research question. (It will help you later, particularly when you’re searching for sources to answer your research question.)