Skip to main content

ENF Research Starter: Find Background Information

Start With Encyclopedias & Background Information

Why do I need to find 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 major controversies and the public debate 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.

Reference Books: Sources for Background Information

Try looking in the following types of resources to learn more about your topic.  Most of these sources are considered to be "reference books."

  • Textbooks
  • General dictionaries
  • Specialized dictionaries
  • General encyclopedias
  • Subject-specific encyclopedias

What to Look For: 5Ws & 1 H

Background information can help you get a better understanding of a topic by familiarizing you with the main concepts and debates associated with it. 

  • Who
    You can learn more about important people, groups, or organizations associated with your topic.

  • What and When
    You can learn more about the main concepts, significant developments, and public debate associated with your topic.  You can also learn about landmark legal cases and statistics relevant to your topic.

  • Where
    Geography may be an important component of your topic. For example: In New York City, the Stonewall Inn is associated with the birth of the modern gay rights movement.   

  • Why
    Why is your topic important?  Why is your topic part of the broader public debate/discourse? 

  • How
    What specific events or developments are associated with your topic?


Help Me Find...