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ENG 283 - Images of Women

What is background information?

What is background information?

Background information gives you a basic introduction to your research topic. Types of background information include:

  • terms: essential vocabulary
  • names: important people, companies, organizations, etc.
  • numbers: statistics, graphs, charts
  • issues: controversies, problems
  • history: key events, dates, timelines

Why do I need background information?
Background information helps you:

  • see the "big picture" view of your topic
  • narrow your research topic
  • find good search words to use later
  • discover good sources for your project

How do I find background information?

The boxes on this page will get you started. Need more help? Ask a librarian!

Books: finding background information

book introductionRead the Introduction!
Find a general book on your topic and read the Introduction section near the beginning. Look for:

  • a quick historical summary of your topic
  • some important concepts and controversies
  • important people, places, and groups
  • key terminology
  • and lots more!

To find books at the Kishwaukee College Library, search the online Library Catalog.

  • Look for the book's call number; this will help you find the book on the shelf
  • If you need help, just ask a librarian at the Reference Desk!

News Websites: finding background information

These award-winning news sources give history, statistics, and other background information on a wide range of topics. Try typing your topic into their search box.

NPR News NPR News (National Public Radio)

BBC News logo

BBC News (British Broadcasting Company)

Statistics: background information on government websites

In this video, Kishwaukee College Instructional Designor Tim Lockman shows you how to find statistical data using government websites.

What About Wikipedia?

Your instructors have probably told you not to quote from Wikipedia or rely on it as a source, and for good reason.


When used cautiously, Wikipedia is a great starting point for a research project!

Just keep in mind:

1. Wikipedia is the starting line, not the finish line: It gives you a basic introduction to your topic, and some ideas for where you might look next.
2. Wikipedia is a place to find other, better sources: Let the citations point you to articles, books, and good websites. Then cite those sources in your project (that way you don't have to cite Wikipedia!). The YouTube video will show you how this works.

A few things to look for in Wikipedia:

background information: important people, events, dates, issues, terminology, etc. related to your topic.
Watch "gaining background knowledge" in the YouTube video (0:45-1:47)
topic outline: the "contents" box shows an outline of the topic; these headings may help you narrow or expand your own research topic.  Watch "narrowing a topic" in the YouTube video (1:48-2:45)
footnotes and references: these point you to the sources cited in the article; many of these may be excellent sources for your project.  Watch "find more credible sources" in the YouTube video (2:46-5:45)

Need more help? Ask a librarian!