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Get Background Information


When you’re getting started, it helps to get background information on your topic.

Background information, such a a brief introduction to your topic, can help you generate “touchpoints” that will lead you to other sources of information. Examples of these "touchpoints" fall mostly into these five categories:

  • Who
    Knowing the names of individuals, groups, or organizations connected to your topic will help you focus your search on information they've published.

  • What
    A summary of your topic will help you understand it better. It can also provide you with key words, specialized vocabulary, and definitions, all of which will be useful for future searches. 

  • When
    If your topic has significant events associated with it, knowing what they are and when they happened will help you choose the best sources to consult (for example:historical databases). You can also use this information to narrow your search by date. 

  • Where
    Sometimes places are important to a topic. For example: the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City (the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement) or Bhopal, India (the site of one of the world's worst industrial catastrophes caused by corporate negligence).

  • Why
    Getting background on why people are interested in your topic can help you develop an approach to your topic or help you craft an argument


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The Five Ws

For a PowerPoint version of the video, above, or a one-page graphic showing how the Five Ws make a foundation for your research, click on the links below.