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Library 101

Why should you read background information?

Basic Facts

The articles you read and cite in your paper will assume you already know the basic facts about your topic. Basic facts include the people, dates, places, and laws related to the topic. You need to know these facts before you read academic articles to ensure you know what the writers are talking about.


Academic writing may use words and terms for a topic that are different from those we use every day. By researching the background of a topic, you'll learn which terms academic writers use to discuss your topic.

Narrowing Your Topic

Most students start off with a topic that's too big to cover in a short paper. By doing thorough background research, you can identify sub-topics that might be easier to work with.

Library Resources with Background Information

The 5 Ws

Use the 5 W questions to help you glean your most needed information from your background research.


Who are the people or groups relevant to your topic?  This can include companies or even fictional characters.


What are the major events, laws, controversies, or issues related to your topic?


When have major events happened to affect your topic? This can include dates, eras, or even age ranges relevant to your topic.


Where are the places most affected by your topic? Which countries, regions, or states?  Does your topic affect urban or rural regions more?


Why is your topic important to investigate?