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Finding Background Information: Background Information


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Stafford Library New Items 2021-2022

Resource guide with items purchased for the library by month.

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These "step" pages have been adapted from that of Johnson & Wales University Library (Denver Campus) as well as from the Research & Learning Services Department of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  Stafford Library has received permission to use and adapt these pages.

Finding Background Information

Once you have identified some key terminology, the next step is to find background information on your topic. Background research serves many purposes:

  • If you are unfamiliar with the topic, it provides a good overview of the subject matter.
  • It helps you to identify important facts related to your topic -- terminology, dates, events, history, and names or organizations.
  • It can help you to refine your topic.
  • Background research might lead you to bibliographies that you can use to find additional sources of information on your topic.

Background information can be found in:

  • Textbooks
  • Dictionaries
  • General encyclopedias
  • Subject-specific encyclopedias  
  • Article databases
  • Internet

These databases provide background information on current topics:

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

The library provides multitudes of encyclopedias and dictionaries for your use, with many of them subject specific.  Many print/physical encyclopedias and dictionaries are available in the library, but also many are also available online through the library's databases.  Below are a few listings you can access directly.  Please don't hesistate to contact us for appropriate suggestions.

  • Credo Reference - Full text of electronic reference books: encyclopedias, handbooks, and dictionaries, both general and subject specific. Titles can be individually browsed or searched simultaneously.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library - Electronic reference books covering topics in business, history, law, literature, medicine, multicultural studies, philosophy, religion, social science, and technology.


Websites can be useful for finding background information on your topic. Of course, you must be careful about the legitimacy of what you find on the open web.  Wikipedia can be useful, but only as a first step. Make sure you verify information you find on Wikipedia with authoritative sources.


  • If you can't find an encyclopedia, dictionary or textbook article on your topic, try using broader keywords or ask a librarian for help.  For example, if your topic is Global Warming, consider searching for an encyclopedia on the environment.
  • Read the background information and note any useful sources (books, journals, magazines, etc.) listed in the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article or dictionary entry. The sources cited in the bibliography are good starting points for further research.
  • When you find a good resource through the use of a library database or library catalog, check the subject headings listed in the subject field.  Then do subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles.
  • Remember that many of the books and articles you find will themselves have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional useful resources for your research.