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Sociology 191: Senior Capstone (Whitt)

Higher Education in the U.S.

Step 2 - What is background information?

Step 2 of the research process often involves finding an overview of a topic, checking facts and data, checking dates of significant events, or looking up definitions of specialized terms. Decorative element (tree with roots icon)

Like the roots of a tree, background information is not always visible but it does play an important role in your research. While Google can be helpful in this regard, you may find some of the UC Merced Reference Databases useful for definitions and background information. Spending time on this step of the process can help give you valuable context that will help you with other steps like searching for research and writing about your topic.

Tip: Background information is often called "reference information" in libraries and library databases.

Find Reference Information using UC Library Search

Search for terms in UC Library Search. When available, an "About the Topic" section will appear above your search results. The source for this Reference information here is the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.

A screen capture of a search for medical sociology in UC Library Search with the Source highlighted in the About the Topic section above the search results

Filter to Reference Entries

In UC Library Search, you can find reference and background information by using the Resource Type option on the left side menu. Click "show more" under Resource Type, then look for "Reference Entries," check the box next to it, and click Apply Filter at the bottom of the page.

Your results should have reference entries from encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and other reference sources. 

A screen capture of a search in UC Library Search for social epidemiology with the "Reference Entries" filter applied from the Resource Type menu

What is Reference?

Background Information or Reference Databases

When reading scholarly articles, you may find yourself looking up specific terminology to aid your understanding. While Google can be helpful in this regard, you may find some of these database sources below useful for definitions and background information.

Tip: Background information is often called "reference information" in library databases.

Variety of Subjects - General Reference Sources

Types of Sources - Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary (Video Tutorial)

Check out this short video (2:23) from Suffolk County Community College Library to understand how primary, secondary, and tertiary sources vary by discipline.

Humanities or Social Sciences-Focused Reference Resources

Sciences-Focused Reference Resources

Using Wikipedia for Research (Infographic)

In addition to being a great place to start exploring an unfamiliar topic, Wikipedia is considered a tertiary source. Writers of tertiary sources synthesize information from secondary sources and strive to report them in a tone that is as unbiased and neutral as possible. 

Some tertiary sources are cited in academic research and others are not. This practice varies by discipline so contact your instructor or a librarian with questions!

"Using Wikipedia for Research" Infographic; Follow the long description link for web accessible version

Step 2 - Pause to Reflect

What is considered background information Noun project icon showing a thought process from question to ideaand whether to cite it can vary by discipline. If you're not sure what it is or where to find it, check out this YouTube video on primary, secondary, and tertiary sources from Suffolk County Library.

Are you citing background information in your research paper/project? You can always check with your instructor to see if that is acceptable for the assignment or within your discipline/major.