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Find Background Information & Resources   Tags: almanac, dictionary, encyclopedia, handbook, library_research, manual, research  

Guide to encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and almanacs: Excellent sources of background information on your topic.
Last Updated: Jan 27, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

About Background Information Print Page

About Background Information

You will be required to find and use background information when you begin an assignment, research paper, or project. It is essential that you become very familiar with the subject you are researching or when you have not decided upon which area of interest of that topic you want to focus. By consulting the types of sources described in this guide, you can find

  • a brief overview of the topic;
  • definitions of terms and jargon in the field;
  • key names, events, and terms related to the topic that may be used later to find information in the online catalog, periodical databases, or other sources;
  • an introductory, select bibliography (i.e., list of suggested sources by scholars or experts in the field).

Background information expands upon the key points stated in your introduction but is not the main focus of the paper. Sufficient background information helps your reader determine if you have a basic understanding of the research problem being investigated and promotes confidence in the overall quality of your analysis and findings.

Background information provides the reader with the essential context needed to understand the research problem.


Encyclopedias | Dictionaries | Handbooks


Encyclopedias are often the best place to begin research when you don’t know much about your topic because they contain key facts on a wide variety of topics.

While general encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, and even Wikipedia, are sometimes easy and logical places to begin research, specialized encyclopedias covering your subject area are more useful and reliable.

A subject-specialized encyclopedia may cover your topic in more depth than a general encyclopedia and has been written by authorities on the specific subject.


General dictionaries are helpful in researching meaning, definition, pronunciation, and sentence structure for clarity in writing, and etymology of words. Examples of general dictionaries: Webster’s English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, and Oxford English Dictionary.
Specialized dictionaries are useful in defining terms which are technical or discipline-specific. They resemble more an encyclopedia. 


A handbook is an official publication and essential guide that focuses content on specific information in a topic or subject area. These books provide essential background information or a collection of details on specific areas of inquiry in short concise sections.


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