Skip to main content
Mary Baldwin University Logo
Martha S. Grafton Library

Research 101

Getting Started -- Background Research

With any research paper, your first step is to gather background information about your topic. 

Background research will you help you:

  • Decide which area of your topic you'd like to research
  • brainstorm alternate keywords
  • familiarize you with the language used by experts

Reference Sources are the best places to gather background information on a topic. Before you dive into academic databases read a Wikipedia page or two. Google your topic and read a few pages. Figure out the who, what, when, and where type questions. 

Reference sources are meant to catch you up on the basics of a topic, not provide in-depth knowledge, so they shouldn't find their way into your papers or reference lists. But They will help you figure out what to search, and make better sense of the scholarly resources that you find. 

Focusing a Broad Topic

Once you have done your background research you should be able to answer the who, what, when, and where questions. Use those to inform your research by choosing the aspects of your topic that interest you the most and focus in.

For example:

  • Instead of the very broad topic of eating disorders, you might choose to research the causes of obesity and overeating in American adolescent females.
  • Instead of Cyberbullying, research the physical effects of cyberbullying on high school males. 

 

Ask a Question:

Whatever your topic is, now that you've thought about Who, What, When, and Where, your responsibility is to figure out the answer to the 'Why?" question. Why were these people in this place at this time affected by your topic? Think about cause and effect, comparing and contrasting. Your research should be dedicated to answering the question Why?, and the more evidence and information you have the easier it is.  

Your thesis answer this "Why?" question, and should come at the END of your research process. 

Online Reference Sources:

Concept Map