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SPAN 480 Research Guide: Finding Background Information

Why is background information important?

Background information can be found in reference books like those provided in links on this page.  It's always a good idea to learn about your topic before you proceed to narrowing it.  Doing background research seems like more work, but it actually provides you with important information that makes the rest of your research project more efficient.  When you do background research in reference books you can find the following kinds of information:

  • a concise history and general orientation to your subject
  • a discussion of the issues and/or research being done on your subject 
  • a mention of the key players or researchers dealing with your topic
  • an introduction to the vocabulary (jargon) of your topic
  • definitions of terms important to your topic

If you "front-load" your research, you'll actually save yourself time by orienting yourself to your subject and discovering possible paper topics in the reference works you consult.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

Oxford Reference Online

Oxford University Press offers many of its fine reference works online.

Finding Reference Books Using the Library Catalog

You can find reference books on your subject by doing a subject search and limiting the collection to Reference and/or Circulating Reference.

WorldCat Catalog

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