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Education: Background

What is a background source?

Background sources are written for a general audience and are intended to give an overview of a topic, fill gaps in the reader’s knowledge, and provide context for deeper understanding.  Examples include Wikipedia, introductory textbooks, and reference works such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks.  They can be a useful place to start your research and can assist in selecting a topic for a research project, locating basic information and key facts, defining important words and concepts, and getting suggestions for additional sources to consult. 

Typical characteristics of background sources:

  • intended to be informative
  • provide context, background, or summary information
  • present shared information and established facts; information is uncontested  
  • offer suggestions for additional sources of information on the topic

Dictionaries & Thesauri

Encyclopedias & Handbooks