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DIY Research: Background Information

Learning Objectives

Identify your information needs and research goals.

Identify potential sources and explore available information.

Narrow your research direction to a manageable focus.

Brainstorming Worksheet

Print yourself a copy of this brainstorming worksheet in the early stages of your research.  Write down all of your ideas, even if they seem silly or unimportant.  The point of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible, not to evaluate them.

Identify Your Research Needs

Defining your topic early is critical since it directly affects the rest of the research process.  Sometimes, this first step of the process is the hardest.  If you need help getting started, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has my professor assigned a topic?
  • What am I interested in?
  • Is there a length requirement for my paper or project?  
  • Is this topic recent enough to be relevant?
  • Has there been enough time for material to be published about this topic?

Gathering background information has important uses. It can help you estimate the amount of material available on your chosen topic and decide if it will be sufficient. You may also pick up related terms, concepts, and synonyms you can use in your searching. Some good places to look for background information are:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Basic books (handbooks, possibly textbooks)
  • Web sites
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines

What is Mind Mapping?


It is also known as brainstorming, and is very useful for generating topics and keywords for your writing. You can create a mind map by hand using pen and paper, or find an online tool.

Background Information Databases

These databases focus on current issues and trends. They provide information such as current situation of the topic, chronology, and opposing viewpoints. They are helpful when beginning to research a topic that you are not familiar with or if you want to know more about what both sides are saying.

CQ Researcher

In-depth, unbiased coverage of health, social trends, criminal justice, international affairs, education, the environment, technology, economy, and global affairs.

Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Current social issues presented in topic pages with a variety of data on differing points of view.

Points of View Reference Center

Multiple sides of current issues, such as Iraq or stem cell research, for debates and position papers. Each topic features an overview/objective background , point (argument) and counterpoint (opposing argument).