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SOC101 Library Research Skills Guide: Conduct Background Research

Why conduct background research?

While you're analysing your topic, you might need to look for some background information. This might seem like doing more work when you could just jump straight into in-depth research, but it actually provides you with important context that can make the rest of your assignment more efficient.

For example, it will be helpful to conduct background research into your chosen social movement more generally, to develop your knowledge in this area. Conducting more targeted research later on will be better placed to quickly identify resources that help you discuss the effectiveness of the social movement to create positive social change and/or to challenge injustice or inequality.

There are a number of places to find background information:

  • Reliable websites (from informed or authoritative sources; see the Evaluate tab for how to check)
  • Some types of news articles, including reviews, feature articles and explainers.
  • Run some broad searches in Primo Search on your topic. Refine your results to 'Books' and possibly also those 'Available Online'. Books often contain an overview of a topic and can be really useful during this stage of your research. 

Consider using an encyclopedia, such as, Oxford Reference Online or the Encyclopedia of Social Work to help you define key terms in you assessment task and to understand more about the concepts you will need to research. 


There are many different types of resources which might offer information on the topic you are researching, but you need to consider whether the source is scholarly or authoritative enough for an academic assignment. (If in doubt, check with your lecturer.)

Source type*: Use this source to:
  • Get an overview, introduction, and/or background on a topic
  • Get in-depth information about a broad topic
Journal article   
  • Access the latest research and ideas on your topic
  • Learn about varied perspectives on a topic
  • Examine a topic in very specific detail
  • Get the latest current affairs and business information
  • Investigate public attitudes to topics and issues
  • Locate reports and documents from government, academic, or professional organisations
  • Find background or introductory information
  • Familiarise yourself with the topic

Reference material

(dictionaries, encyclopaedias)

  • Find factual and statistical information on a topic
  • Get an overview of a subject
  • Find definitions
  • Use subject specific resources to decipher the "jargon" of your topic

*Source type includes both hard copy and online versions of the source (for example, books includes both hard copy books and ebooks

The following pages will introduce you to three common search tools to help you find resources for your assignments.

Sources of Information