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History 111 - Women in American History - Kronbeck

Background Information

background information

Background information is the foundational information you must know to create a research question or topic. Background information gives you an overview of basic ideas or concepts related to your topic. It also introduces you to the academic language that experts may use to describe your topic. 

Start with these Databases for Background Information

What is Wikipedia?

Strengths of Wikipedia

1. Wikipedia is completely free, providing access to information on millions of topics to anyone with Internet capabilities.

2. Wikipedia is constantly updated by the hour. In comparison, print or online encyclopedias are usually updated annually.

3. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, giving you background information on your topic and possible keywords to help you conduct more in-depth research elsewhere.

4. Sources used in the articles are cited, allowing further investigation into any topic. References are located at the bottom of most Wikipedia pages.

5. Wikipedia attempts to include any notable topic including people, places, events, and theories that may help you understand a topic more quickly.

Weaknesses of Wikipedia

1. Anyone with internet access can create, edit, or delete Wikipedia articles. Evaluation of some articles can be slow or non-existent.

2. Wikipedia articles ARE NOT scholarly, because we know nothing about the contributors or their expertise in the subject.

3. Articles are works-in-progress, meaning changes are constantly occuring to the information. When an article is first published, the information might waver back and forth between viewpoints before achieving a neutral tone. Viewing the behind-the-scenes discussion can be a valuable way of learning about those varying perspectives.

4. Sometimes articles are vandalized, whether for fun, as a hoax, or because the subject is controversial.

5. The intended audience can vary-- some articles are written from a insider's view, with highly technical language, while some are written for a more general audience. This can be both frustrating and valuable depending on what one is looking for, and either way is a warning sign that the information can be inconsistent.

Strengths and Weaknesses Excerpt from Univ. of Pittsburgh Libraries Course Guide

How Can I Use Wikipedia for Background Information?

Use Wikipedia to:

  • Get references on a topic at the bottom of the article
  • Learn more general information about a topic including events, timelines, and important people
  • Explore how one topic is connected to another through links on the article

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