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Basic Research Process

Background Information

After choosing a general topic and identifying key words to try as search terms, find sources of background information. These provide a broader context and an overview of what is known about your topic. Reading background information gives you an idea of how much and what kind of information is available. It can also lead you to additional associated terms and keywords to use when searching for sources. 

Gathering Background Information

Overview information sources can be found in our General Reference Guide.​

Remember these tips from MIT Libraries:​

  • Think in broad terms

    • Check for background information in works like dictionaries, handbooks and encyclopedias

    • Look for facts in statistical guides, almanacs, biographical sources, and/or handbooks

  • Collect keywords, concepts, and relevant author names to use when searching databases

  • Look at bibliographies and notes to guide you to other sources of information

  • After learning more about your topic, narrow it. Use information you found to develop a research question. That is the question you will seek to answer in your research.

Next you will begin to Develop A Research Question. 


MIT Libraries. (n.d.). Selecting a research topic: Background information & facts. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from

Garrett-Tripp Library. (2019, January). How to do research: A step-by-step guide: Get started. Elmira College. Retrieved from