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Information Literacy Modules: Background Information

Backgound Information

Background Information. College Library Logo

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Now that you have decided on a topic, it is helpful to get some background information. What does that mean? Think about it like this:  When you first come up with a topic idea, how are you describing it? Are the terms you initially think of going to be the best terms to describe what you are looking for?   Take this topic question for an example:  Do kids take trolling seriously in Snapchat?  This question has potential to work for a research paper. However, it will need to be refined to become an effective topic. In its current arrangement, this would be an example of an initial question that is potentially too narrow.  So how could you figure out the best way to describe your subject?

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You could begin with some background reading. In your initial question, try to decide what the main topic is.  Do kids take trolling seriously in Snapchat?  In this sentence, what would the main focus be? Kids, Trolling, or Snapchat? In this sentence, kids is identifying a subset of potential users and trolling is describing an action that is performed when one is working with social media. In this case, that social media is Snapchat. The main focus is really on Snapchat. So how do we find background information on Snapchat?  There are several places to look for this kind of information. These include, but are not limited to:  Textbooks Encyclopedias/Subject Specific Encyclopedias Dictionaries/Subject Specific Dictionaries Biographies on Individuals Guides and Handbooks   As we just mentioned, Snapchat is a type of social media, so while finding an entry on Snapchat in any of these types of sources may prove to be difficult, finding information on social media will be easier.

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Now that you have looked into the back ground of social media, you may have a better idea of what it is, and some more terms you can use to search with. So let’s reexamine the initial question:  Do kids take trolling seriously in Snapchat?  Is there a better way to phrase this question that keeps the essence of the topic? What about:  Does trolling in social media harm teenagers?  This is one possible way to refine the initial question. But how do the word choices effect the question? Here is a quick explanation:  Social Media: Snapchat is a type of social media, and all social media provides the ability to respond to other’s posts, which is where trolling happens Teenagers: the use of the word kids is informal. It is always better to keep with formal descriptions when searching for materials. Children is another possible search term. Harm: the term seriously is not very descriptive. The initial question implies that you want to find out  if trolling is good or bad. Instead of implying, it is better to use direct terms. Negative effect or negative impact are also potential descriptions.   Remember that the terms used in your topic question should be used as search terms. It is useful to come up with synonyms for these terms to help widen your search.

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Now that you have refined your topic question and identified potentially useful search terms, it’s time to begin searching. We will cover how to search over the next two modules, Selecting Finding Tools and Searching. For now, let’s concentrate on our beginning process.     Once you have tried using your refined search terms, what kind of results are you finding?  How much is coming back? As mentioned in the previous segment, if you have an overwhelming amount of results, it could be that your topic is too broad and needs to be narrowed. How to narrow it? Try reading through some of the results and see what subtopics might be found in them. Allow your research to lead you into an area you find interesting. Always confer with your instructor when you are changing course, but remember (and we will say it again) research is a process and revision is part of that process.  Do the results relate to your topic question, or are they going in different directions? Okay, so you may need to refine your topic again. You could go back to your initial search terms and work on identifying other related terms and synonyms. Or try using the strategy mentioned above and feel out a potential new angle to approach your topic. It could be that the sources you are finding do relate to portions of your topic, but do not directly relate to the whole thing. That is okay, sometimes you need to draw information from different places to fulfill the information needed to write on your topic. There is a video below that illustrates this point titled One Perfect Source.  Are you not finding anything on your topic? If very little to nothing is coming back in your searches there are several ways to address this. Try the technique mentioned above of redefining your search terms. Maybe your topic is too narrow still, try to broaden it out and find another subtopic to follow. If these do not work and you cannot see a way to continue with your topic and still find reputable sources, it may be time to abandon the topic and start over. It is best to try to follow through with a topic when possible. But if you have refined your terms, worked with your instructor and/or a librarian and still cannot move forward, it is time to pick another topic.

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In closing this segment, there is a video on background reading below that is worth viewing. It helps to illustrate some of the ideas presented.   Before viewing it and moving onto Types of Sources, consider the types of materials that are found when conducting your initial search on your topic. Are you  mostly finding newspaper articles, journal articles, books, videos, etc.? This might indicate the relevance of the topic in an academic setting. Depending on your assignment’s conditions, if you are only finding newspaper articles and your instructor has indicated that you need some book and journal materials, your topic may not work for that assignment. So sometimes it is not enough to just find results, you may need to find results in specific types of publications. If you cannot find the correct type of materials, you will need to either revise how you are searching, or potentially consider abandoning the topic and working with something else.   On the other hand, if your topic is more general in nature, finding only academic journal articles that are very specific in essence may not provide the type of information needed. The types of sources you seek need to fulfill the type of information you need.

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Videos: One Perfect Source and How to Get Background Information on a Topic



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