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ENG 215: Strategies of Academic Writing

Support for research and writing assignments in ENG 215.

An Overview - Background Information that Matters

After coming up with a topic that personally matters to you, the next step is to gather some background information about your topic. You don’t want or need anything too specific just yet; contextual and background information is the stuff you’re after, especially if you haven’t come up with a particular perspective from which to approach your topic. The important thing is to find sources that can deliver: 

  • An overview of the topic 
  • Different definitions or perspectives of the topic 
  • A summary of the significant parts of the topic 
  • Names of people who are considered experts or authorities of the topic 
  • A timeline of important dates, events, and players 
  • A lexicon and topic-specific terms that can be used later for database searches 
  • Reliable bibliographies that can lead to additional research materials. 

In other words, you need to locate contextual and background information that can help you learn more about your topic and where you want to go in your research.

Online Encyclopedia Collections

Generally you should not use encyclopedia entries as sources for your research papers.  You can use them though to define terms or concepts, basic facts or biographical details. 

Encyclopedia articles are also useful for deepening your knowledge and understanding of a subject, which may help you determine how to define your research question or structure your search. 

Using the Web?

The Web is a source for background information also, but use it with care!  There are ways to limit your searches to particular types of organizations, such as professional associations, special interest groups, government and education. 

In a Google search you can use your topic description and a shortcut to limit your searches to non-profit organizations by entering your topic keywords and ""  For example:

substance abuse, counseling,

Government sites would be, ""

Educational sites, ""

You still need to investigate each Web site to ensure it comes from a reputable source and to recognize any biases the organization may have.  

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