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How to Research: Find Background Information

Just getting started on a research paper or project? Don't know where to start? This is the guide for you!

Find Background Information

Just starting a paper or project?  Consider using an encyclopedia, dictionary, or handbook to help you:

  • choose a topic
  • get an overview of your topic before you start further research

Background information sources can be general or subject-specific, and often provide suggestions for further reading.

    Background Information Sources


    Subject-specific encyclopedias contain entries focusing on one field of study.
    General encyclopedias provide overviews on a wide variety of topics.

    Use an encyclopedia

    • to become familiar with the basics of a topic.
    • to find key ideas, important dates or concepts.
    • Wikipedia might be a good starting point, depending on your topic.


    Subject-specific dictionaries contain entries focusing on one field of study.
    General dictionaries provide broad definitions on a wide variety of topics.

    Use a dictionary

    • to find a definition of a term, especially within a particular field.


    Handbooks are collections of information that provide quick answers particular to a specific field of study.

    Use a handbook:

    • for concise facts and tips.
    • for instructions and techniques.
    • Search the library catalogue for your topic and add the search term "handbook" (ex. marketing handbook or counseling handbook)


    About Wikipedia

    Wikipedia is a popular online encyclopedia, but it is not always considered an appropriate source for academic assignments.

    Wikipedia is, however, an acceptable source to use as a starting point and for background information.


    References and links provided at the end of each Wikipedia entry can lead you to credible and scholarly information elsewhere.  Just be sure to evaluate the new site before using the information.

    Background Information