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Writing 10: College Reading and Composition Pre-Health (Lovas)

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. 

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.

Background and Reference Databases at UC Merced Library

Multidisciplinary Databases

Specialized Databases by Subject or Area

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.

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

Long description of "Using Wikipedia for Research" for web accessibility

Thanks to IUPUI University Library for allowing reuse of this graphic under a Creative Commons license.

Step 2 - Pause to Reflect

What is considered background information and 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.