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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
Oxford Reference This link opens in a new window
Hundreds of dictionaries, general reference, language reference, and subject reference works from Oxford University Press.
Oxford Research Encyclopedias This link opens in a new window
Designed to be an authoritative resource of reference content in a wide array of academic fields, including the humanities, social sciences, and science.
Cambridge Histories This link opens in a new window
Historical overviews and contextual essays from leading scholars on topics across a broad range of time periods and geographies. Chapters can be downloaded as PDFs and are printable.
Encyclopedias & Dictionaries