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Social Work Research Methods: Background Info

What is background information?

Background information provides a general overview of and context for a research topic, event, or policy. It is a great place to find important vocabulary and concepts, relevant names of people or places, and dates of specific events. Data and statistics are also considered background information and can help determine things like prevalence. What these have in common is that they give you the big picture before you start digging into the scholarly research.

Finding good background information on a general topic can help you turn that topic into a Research Question, or narrow down a Research Question that is too broad.

They will also help you determine what vocabulary and background concepts you will need to identify relevant peer-reviewed sources in the databases and identify more specific areas of your topic that you may want to research further.


Data & Statistics


Perform a scoped Google search for statistical information online. Here's an example of a search that is limited to .gov webpages:

Search: Dallas homeless statistics site:gov

Other endings:



Google Web Search


Authors sometimes make their instruments accessible to others. When shared, they are often appended to journal articles and dissertations, but they might also be found in books and on web sites.

There are two primaries ways to search for these measures & tests using UTA Libraries resources. The most straight-forward way is to look in the Mental Measurements Yearbook database.

The second way requires some strategic searching in the PsycINFO database. 

PsycINFO has a Tests & Measures search field. In order to search for articles that have used a measure on a specific topic, enter a very broad key term in the search field, and use the dropdown to select Tests & Measures.

The image above shows what a search for measures related to suicide risk and suicidality might look like. In the search bar, the suicid* is our search term, which will pick up any variations on the word suicide. The TM Tests & Measures selection from the dropdown tells the database that our key term must appear in the Tests & Measures field.

However, this does not guarantee that the measure that was used in the study will appear in the article. Sometimes measures are appended to the article, in which case, you might want to try a search that includes a second search line with the key term append* and the dropdown Tests & Measures. See image below.

Within the results of the above search, you should find one or more of the measures used in the study attached as an appendix or within the text of the article.