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ENG 111 Research Guide: Find Background Information

Start With Encyclopedias & Background Information

Why should I start my research by looking for background information?

Background information, such as the type of information found in encyclopedias, serves many purposes:

  • Provides an overview of the topic and relevant context, including main concepts, key terms, important events, statistics, and landmark legal cases.
  • Addresses controversies related to the topic.
  • Provides a sense of how the topic relates to other topics.
  • May contain bibliographies, which lead to more information on the topic.

Tips for Developing Your Topic

  1. What are Your Options?
    Read the assignment instructions closely, and determine what options you have.  Choose a topic that matters to you.  Also, make sure your topic isn't too obscure.  When doing research, you'll be looking for outside sources that address your topic, so make sure there's published information about it.

  2. Ask Questions to Refine Your Topic: 5Ws & 1H
    Asking questions about your topic can help to focus it.  The 5Ws & 1H are: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.  Sometimes, we begin research with a vague notion of what we plan to write about. However, asking questions can help you to transform a fuzzy idea into something more concrete.

  3. Find Background Information to Refine Your Topic:
    Another way of focusing your topic is to find background information on it. Reference sources, such as encyclopedias, provide information about key concepts, events, and people associated with your topic.

  4. Create a Preliminary Research Question (or Topic Statement):
    At some point during the research process, you'll be able to articulate questions or statements to guide your research.  You can pull keywords from a research question or statement and plug them into library databases.

  5. Determine Key Concepts & Find Sources:
    Following steps 2-4 will help you to identify the words or phrases that represent main concepts for your topic.  By plugging two or three keywords into a library database, you'll be able to find articles and books related to your topic.

  6. Remember that Research is Not a Linear Process:
    You may find yourself revisiting earlier steps in the research process after some preliminary research.  For example, you may need to refine/revise your initial research question.  This is a sign that you're progressing through the research process, not a setback.

Help Me Find...


Get Research Help

Learn how to find information on your topic in library databases, as well as time-saving research tips.

Contact a Germanna Librarian to schedule a time to chat over the phone or  in-person.  You can also e-mail your question.

The phone numbers for the circulation desk at each Germanna Library are listed here.

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