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WR 121 College Writing: Background Information

Get to Know Your Topic - Background Information

Before you start searching for sources, you need to know the nuts and bolts of your topic.  Background information will help you:

  • Understand the basic elements of your topic
  • Narrow and focus your research question
  • Determine relevant keywords and search terms
  • Plan your research

Background research can take many forms, such as general googling or reading a wikipedia article.  However, subject encyclopedias are trustworthy, academic sources written by experts on the subject.  Subject encyclopedia entries, or articles, also include a list of references, or further reading on the subject, that you can also use for your research.  

Search subject encyclopedias at Portland State University Library

Background Information Video

This three-minute video shows how to find background information

Online Subject Encyclopedias

Scholarly subject encyclopedias provide background information about specific topics. Entries or articles, written by scholars or subject experts, include bibliographies or suggested readings that will lead to more information on your topic.

You can use subject encyclopedias to identify keywords for your research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.