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Research Tutorial: Background Reading

Why Do You Need to do Background Reading?

Video Transcript

Your professor has given you a writing assignment. This is one of the many writing assignments you will do while attending college. But you’re wondering, why do I need to learn how to write?  I want to be a nurse; a lawyer; a physician; or a professional athlete. Did you know that world-class athletes do crunches, run five miles a day, and lift barbells so that they can be in the best shape to play sports? Similarly, writing a research paper (crunches) develops skills that help you succeed not only in college but in your life. Therefore; it is important to get this skill under your belt. 

You wonder, where do I begin?

First, read the assignment completely and highlight the requirements: What is the topic? How many pages or words must the paper be? When is the paper due? What citation style is acceptable?

Once you’ve decided on a topic, then you need to do some background reading. This will help you understand the topic more deeply. Moreover; it will give you some insight into how you want to approach the topic. 

Ask yourself, what context do I want to consider this topic through? For example, you may want to consider culture, society, history, health, or a specific discipline?  This will help you FRAME the topic and make it more meaningful. 

Once you’ve answered the questions, then you will need to do some background searching in general reference materials in order to find and locate information about your topic. If you do that then you will find resources that provide:

  • A broad overview of the topic
  • Definitions of the topic
  • Introduction to key issues or ideas
  • Names of individuals, organizations, or that are experts in the subject field
  • Major dates and events
  • Keyword and subject-specific vocabulary terms that can be used in a database
  • Bibliographies that lead to additional resources

Now that you understand the significance of doing background research, you ask yourself, where do I begin searching? The answer is in the GENERAL REFERENCE MATERIALS. But what are they?

General and Subject Encyclopedias and Dictionaries are important sources to consider when initially researching a topic.

Specifically, CREDO REFERENCE is an excellent database compilation of encyclopedias, dictionaries as well as subject encyclopedias.    

So, you understand General Reference Materials, but what other authoritative sources are good for background reading?

Newspapers are reliable sources that give you up-to-date historical information on a variety of topics, events, and issues.

You can search and locate the most recent premium U.S. news content in the NEWSSTAND database.

Finally, depending on your professor, you may use factual and authoritative websites that help provide background information: 

  • Typically, informational websites such as the Federal (, State ( and Local government websites provide a wealth of authoritative data and information on many topics.
  • Educational websites like Prince Georges Community College:
  • Associations and Organizations provide useful information on topics of special interest. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) is one such organization. 

Remember the more background information you gather, the better able you will be to write a thorough and well-written paper.