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Personalized Learning: Library Services and Help

Background information

Why do I need background information?

There are several reasons why you need background information:

1. Background information gives you ideas. It can help you decide what you want to say about your topic, or what piece of your topic you want to focus on.

2. Background information gives you the names of people, places, and things related to your topic. You can use this names to search for books or articles.

3. Background information often includes lists of other sources you can use.

Where can I find background information?

The best place to look for background information is in encyclopedias.

Some encyclopedias are on the Internet. There are good encyclopedias at Encyclopedia.com, Infoplease.com, and TheFreeDictionary.com. The most famous Internet encyclopedia is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a "wiki," which means that anyone can edit it. Almost everything in Wikipedia is true, but some things in Wikipedia are false. If you use Wikipedia, use your judgment and common sense -- if something in Wikipedia seems like it might be false, double-check it by looking it up in a different source.

Should I cite the background information that I use?

In most cases, no, you should not cite background information. The purpose of background information is to help you find other sources, such as books and articles. You should cite those other sources, not the background information.

However, in some rare occasions, you might find a fact in your background information that you can't find in another book or article. In that case, it might be okay to cite the background information. You should ask your teacher to be sure.

Adapted from University of Mary Washington Research Guide