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How to Write a Research Paper: Background Information

Need help with your research paper. Check out this LibGuide to find out how to get started.


Encyclopedias are an excellent place to begin your research project. They can provide a concise overview of a topic in language that is easy to read and understand.  This can be particularly useful if you are working in a subject area that you are not familiar with. 

  • General Encyclopedias provide information about a large number of subjects.  An example of a general encyclopedia is the BritannicaOnline.
  • Subject-Specific Encyclopedias focus on one particular subject area and provide information that is usually not covered by a general encyclopedia.  Examples of subject-specific encyclopedias include the Encyclopedia of Social Work or The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.

Online Reference Collection

 If you are not in the library and need to access reference materials, Lightner has an online reference collection that you can access anywhere you have a connection to the Internet.

Why Gather Background Information?

Background information can be very important as you begin your research especially if you are working in an unfamiliar subject area.  It can:

  • Provide a concise overview of your topic
  • Give you some historical perspective
  • Help you identify important people in the field
  • Help you learn the language and terminology of the subject area
  • Help you narrow your topic
  • Help you determine if there is enough information available to be able to write a research paper


Print Reference Collection

A good place to begin your research is with Lightner Library's print reference collection located on the main floor of the library.  These resources can help you answer many of your research questions and can provide you with the background information on your research topic.

Reference sources include:

  • Encyclopedias, general or specialized
  • Dictionaries, general or specialized
  • Handbooks
  • Statistical sources
  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies
  • Directories
  • Atlases

Reference Librarian

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Linda Park
(315) 279-5208