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SPAN 3120 Advanced Spanish Grammar (Brown, Becher, and Raymond): Develop a Topic

Use Background Information to Develop Your Topic

Background information is the information you use to become informed about a topic. It's not usually the information you should cite, but rather it is a springboard for your further research. As you learn more about your topic through using background sources, pay attention to the new keywords that may be useful in your future searches, and jot them down or record them in a spreadsheet.

Why use background information? 

Gathering background information helps you:

  1. Become familiar with a topic
  2. Understand the context surrounding your topic
  3. Find a narrow focus (so you don't get overwhelmed)
  4. Identify experts, or "big names," in the field of study
  5. Find references to other books and articles relevant to your research

Encyclopedias, in print or online, are a good place to begin looking for background information. Try these sources:

Prescriptive Usage of Spanish

Background information sources, like grammar reference books, are a great source on prescriptive or normative use of the Spanish language. Check out a few examples on the right.

Using Wikipedia for Research and other Reference Sources

As you gather background information about your topic, your research question may change and that’s okay. Background information should inform you of what’s already known about your topic so that you can ask questions that truly require research to answer. Sometimes background information can be called “reference information.” In fact, there’s a whole section of Norlin Library that has reference materials.



Wikipedia sphere logo Wikipedia name text

One place you can start is Wikipedia, but be sure to check other sources including library subscription encyclopedias (see links in the box above). You can use Wikipedia to:

  1. Do some initial searching and learn about related topics
  2. Find keywords that you can use in database searches
  3. Find links to references to useful sources

Be careful:

  1. Do not cite to Wikipedia. Since anyone can edit this online resource, it can be difficult to cite an author or evaluate that author for credibility
  2. Do not believe everything you read on Wikipedia. Try verifying the information through another credible source, like a library reference database

Narrow your Focus by Refining your Topic

Online Spanish Grammar Reference Sources

This list is a mixture of subscription databases and freely-available web resources.

Chinook Classic Widgets

Reference and General Histories - Books from the Catalog

Reference sources, especially general history books on a topic, can be great sources of background information. Here are som examples from the catalog. We have many more, so be sure to do some of your own searches based on your topic using the Chinook widget (above).