How to Do a Background Study for a Thesis


A thesis background study is a comprehensive review of information surrounding and influencing your topic. It includes reading books, academic journals, studies and other thesis materials relating to either your topic or the situations connected to your topic. A few techniques get your background study going and make the task much more manageable. Your background study forms the foundation for your thesis and provides you with valuable sources for writing your paper.

  • Write an early outline for your research. Include some of the elements of your topic that you expect to research as well as significant issues related to your topic. Remember that this list is speculative and many of these things may change after you finish with your research. Make a list of significant words and phrases that are likely to appear in search databases. For instance, if your thesis includes a review of “Pride and Prejudice,” your list may include the following words: Jane Austen, marriage market, women in the early 19th century and British literature.

  • Input your topic as a search subject in databases to look for peer-reviewed journal articles and books about your topic. Do additional searches with your list of significant words and phrases and collect sources that you may be able to use in your thesis. This includes checking out books and making copies of significant academic articles.

  • Start a binder with your thesis research and place copies of all of your journal articles inside.

  • Read through all of the sources you found and separate them into three groups. The first group consists of articles and books that have no relevance to your topic. The second includes articles and books that have some relevance, such as a few significant quotes or a strong description of an element of your research. The third group is articles and books that are extremely significant to your research.

  • Place your first stack in a section of your binder marked, “unused” but keep them in case you change your mind later. Highlight important information in your second and third stack. Refer to the references, or works-cited, section of your third stack and copy all of this information. Retrieve the resources from this reference list that seem significant to your topic and distribute them among your original three stacks. Continue doing this until you feel comfortable with your overall research and are ready to put together your background study.

  • Write your background study as a review of the elements connected to your topic, using the information you got from your recent study of the topic. Include specific references to the information that you found and cite this information correctly in your own works-cited section. Reread and revise your background study before including it in your thesis proposal.


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