How to conduct background research

Colonial cannon
© History Skills

Once you know the question you need to answer, spend some time doing some general reading about your topic, called 'background research'.


The purpose of background research is to improve your background knowledge. This helps you to familiarise yourself with the events, people and places you need to write about.

Things you need to establish during background research:

Significant people

Significant events

Important locations

Important concepts or foreign words 

Good background research helps you write better sub-questions and improves your vocabulary, which will improve the overall sophistication of your essay writing.


General history websites or Wikipedia help give you some background to a topic, but do not use them as references or sources in essays.

Good resources for background research


The free online encyclopaedia

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Ancient History Encyclopedia is a non-profit educational website with a global vision: to provide the best ancient history information on the internet for free.

History on the Net

A website which aims to provide historical information that is easy for both children and adults to navigate, is written in accessible language, is illustrated wherever possible and makes learning fun.

Example background research

Here is an example of a completed background research:

Watch a video explanation on the History Skills YouTube channel:

Watch on YouTube

What's next?

Need a digital Research Journal?

Background Research Worksheet
Ready-to-use digital worksheet for background research on any topic. It has blank tables with question prompts to aid successful completion.

Test your learning

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