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Argument and research: Background information

A guide for researching argument writing and speech assignments

Why get background info?

checkmarkResearch, write and speak from a position of knowledge.

An overview of your topic area helps you understand...

  • the historical perspective on your topic
  • what the key issues are and how you may want to refine your topic
  • who are the stakeholders (the groups or individuals interested in or affected by this topic)
  • a context of how your topic relates to the other issues that surround it
  • specialized vocabulary that is used relating to your topic (you can use these words for searches later in your research process)

Databases for background info

Your library also has library databases that can provide excellent background information on a variety of topics.

How to find reference books for background info

Background sources largely give general information about a topic. For example, take the topic the history of tobacco advertising. If your paper is about cigarette marketing to adolescents, it is important that you understand something about the history of tobacco advertising in general. 

The same is true for anything else: If your paper is about ______, it is important that you understand something about the history of ______.

Consider using the library's reference books and resources for this purpose. The library holds many print specialty encyclopedias and electronic encyclopedias. Use the following steps to help you find them.

How to find reference books in the library:

Step 1. Library catalog

Start at the library catalog, linked below, to start your search for reference books and background info.

Step 2. Keywords

Type in keywords related to your topic. To find reference books, also add a keyword like "encyclopedia" in the search box

Library catalog search for encyclopedia

Step 3. Note the location/access

Double-check if the reference book is an e-book (electronic) or in print and available in your library's reference collection.

  • If there is a print book icon and a call number, then jot down the call number to find the book. Ask a librarian to help you find the book!
  • If it's an e-book, there will be an "E" icon and "Electronic access" heading. Below is an example of an electronic reference book -- click the "Click to View" link to open up the e-book to read online.

Example of an e-book encyclopedia

Step 4. Try other keywords

You often need to think of the many resources that would discuss your topic. In this case, an encyclopedia about children and media would likely have something about advertising and children, or tobacco advertising and children. So you could another search in the library catalog for: media children encyclopedia

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