What Is Background Information and What Purpose Does It Serve?
Background information is an important component of an essay, research paper or presentation because it can get the reader's attention and prompts them to keep reading. Depending on the topic, background information might take a particular tone or approach to provide context or address a question. In this article, we define background information, explain the different types and offer examples for how to apply it to your paper or presentation.
What is background information?
Background information provides support or evidence to bolster an article's topic. Although it isn't the primary focus of an article, this type of information can give context and help the writer refine the topic. Background information typically describes the history of the topic or the cause of the problem the topic addresses. It can also establish the topic's importance or show how to solve a problem.
Background information is usually three to five sentences and comes after the writer gets the reader's attention. This means they present the principal topic and then share the background information that supports their theories or persuades the reader. You can design your opening statement and background information so the reader wants to know more about your topic. You can present this information as:
A detailed definition of the topic or problem
A way to provide historical context
A related topic to current events
A quote or passage from experts
Related: How To Prepare a Presentation
Why is background information important?
Background information matters because it provides a way for the writer to help the reader understand the topic, provide relevant or historic details and to outline the pros and cons. This information also serves to inform the reader of relevant dates or events and to identify key people or organizations. Background information can give the reader an overall idea of what to expect from the rest of the paper or presentation.
Six types of background information
Background information comes in several forms and its content and presentation are relative to the topic or the article's goal. Here is a list of six types of background information:
1. Defining information
Defining information points out the differences in similar-sounding words or terms. It may define interchangeable words to provide clarity and proper context.
Example: “When we first looked at the importance of work-life balance, we knew there would be surprises. It was only a few years ago that personal health was the major concern of too much work and not enough pleasure. Then, the term well-being became mainstream and we took another look at the relation of health to well-being and how they are different.”
2. Using descriptive information
Consider descriptive information as a story-telling method where you hope to invoke emotion or recreate an experience. Descriptive background information uses the five senses to communicate ideas through touch, smell, sight, sound and taste.
Example: “Now that working life has endured enormous changes, I can't help but think back to my first day in an office. I remember the faint smell of cologne and perfumes as I walked through the halls, keeping pace with the sounds of computer keyboards. I felt as if my future was right in front of me and anything was possible. Today, our work environments are different but our ambitions remain similar. Let's explore why.”
3. Classification of topic
The classifying method serves to present the information in smaller parts, such as defining specific terms within a broader topic. For this example, classifying the general topic of well-being divides the information into spiritual, physical, emotional or social well-being.
Example: “Studies show job burnout increases when expectations are high and resources are low. We watch incredible employees leave because their identities have become lost in their job roles. As we continue to research, we better understand the need to build trust and improve communication with our employees to enable the success of our company.”
4. Defining the process
The process method explains how the process relates to the topic. It details the process used to achieve a goal or complete a task. This method uses numbers and data to provide evidence and context.
Example: "By taking actions to help our teams perform their jobs better, we polled past and current employees to measure their responses. The first survey showed that 50% of retired employees experienced job satisfaction. The second survey determined that 60% of current employees are happy in their role, but 40% of them feel unsatisfied. These results led to this paper, where we discuss plans to confront the issues that have improved but remain unresolved.”
5. Presenting arguments
In the argumentative method, background information includes both support and opposition to a topic. It offers a different perspective or point of view to inspire debate or conversation:
Example: “Offering group health coverage starts a discussion about costs and the expense of implementing a plan. But when we consider our employees, the discussion of cost is quite different. Our collaboration with Dr. Michaels and Dr. Burns spanned an 18-month period, during which we interviewed focus groups. Our research allows us to show the true costs of the healthcare decision.”
6. Persuading the opposition
The persuasion method of presenting background information helps guide the reader into understanding the writer's point of view. It may confirm the reader's current belief or relay a personal experience that changes their belief.
Example: “When did our work-life balance dissolve? It feels like it's been a long time since our working lives had more structure. We worked a certain number of hours, had regular days off and vacationed once a year. Over time, those hours shifted and changed, so routines and schedules became more difficult to maintain. If we hope to continue employing the talent we have become accustomed to, we need to reevaluate our priorities.”
Where to find background information
If you need to locate background information for your article or you require supporting evidence, consider the following sources:
Encyclopedias: These books cover a whole range of topics where you can find related information. Consider checking specialized encyclopedias that narrow a topic's focus.
Internet: Social media and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia may offer supporting evidence. Be sure to verify facts with one or two other reliable sources for accuracy.
Library: Local libraries contain books on just about any topic and catalog systems make searching titles simple. Or, speak to a librarian for advice on finding historical information.
Journals: Professional and scientific journals are great resources for peer-reviewed information. Be sure to cite authors or researchers within your background information.
Newspapers: Look to newspapers for information related to current events. Online newspaper websites may have access to archives for historical articles.
Databases: Search databases for numerical and factual information. Databases provide data on statistics, analysis, percentages or predictions.
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