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Guide to the Research Process: 1d. Find Background Information

This guide provides an introduction to the skills needed to conduct research, with particular reference to the field of education.

Sources of Background Information

Background information can be found in:

  • reference books
  • textbooks
  • general dictionaries
  • specialized dictionaries
  • general encyclopedias
  • subject-specific encyclopedias  
  • article databases


Reference Books

Reference books are a good starting point for your research:

  • when you know very little about a topic
  • when you need an overview of a subject
  • when you want a quick summary of basic ideas on the topic
  • to discover the names of important people in the field
  • to become familiar with the vocabulary of the field

Specialized Dictionaries

Specialized dictionaries:

  • provide definitions for specialized vocabulary
  • often provide lengthy explanations associated with the vocabulary, similar to an encyclopedia article

Why Do You Need Background Information?

Once you have identified some keywords, the next step is to find background information on your topic. Background research serves many purposes.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the topic, it provides a good overview of the subject matter.
  • It helps you to identify important facts related to your topic -- terminology, dates, events, history, and names or organizations.
  • It can alert you to key issues and controversies.
  • It can give you a sense of how your topic relates to other topics.
  • It can help you to refine your topic.
  • It can provide you with an introduction to the specialized vocabulary relating to your topic.
  • It might lead you to bibliographies that you can use to find additional sources of information on your topic.

Specialized Encyclopedias

Specialized encyclopedias have:

  • articles on specific topics within a particular area
  • articles written by experts in the field
  • articles that provide bibliographies which list other sources on the same subject
  • articles that usually contain cross-references to other related topics
  • articles that provide an introduction to specialized vocabulary

Reference Books in the SOE Library

The School of Education Library provides a selection of reference works in print format, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks. This guide provides a list of selected sources.


Online Reference Sources

In addition to the print reference resources provided by the School of Education Library, the Campus Libraries provide access to electronic reference materials, and there are many others freely available on the Internet.