Background reading

If you don't know much about your topic – or even if you do – you might need to get some background information to work out where to start your research.

Background information helps you come up with a comprehensive list of keywords to use when you're doing your research. Here are some good places to start:


Wikipedia is a fantastic source of general information and an excellent starting point for research, as long as it isn't the only thing you read.

You can search Wikipedia for the names of people, places, movements, books, etc. – anything relevant to your assignment question – as well as synonyms for these words.

Although Wikipedia can be written and edited by anyone, warnings on suspect articles help you evaluate what you're reading. If an entry is a stub or doesn't have any references, it's still worth reading; just bear in mind that it might not be reliable.

Other resources

The reference collections of public and school libraries are another great way to get reliable background information on your topic.

Library reference collections contain books that you can't borrow because people use them all the time. The reference collection in a school library contains books like dictionaries, atlases and encyclopedias.

The State Library of Victoria's reference collection, includes important secondary sources about Victorian history.

One of the advantages of using reference books is that they've been selected by a reference librarian who's an expert at finding information and has probably found resources on your topic for other students before.

Recording the details

You can take notes if you want to, but one thing you must do is record the bibliographical details of everything you look at. This is to ensure you don't accidentally pass someone else's ideas and words as your own. This is known as plagiarism.

You also never know whether the resources you've found will be important later, so save yourself the hassle of coming back for more details. Start a Word™ document as your bibliography, and add to it as you go.


See also

Evaluate websites

Library services

Write your bibliography

Family and friends are useful sources of information. Discuss your topic with them and see what they know.