When you need to include additional details to help the reader understand your paper, it’s helpful to look at background information examples to see how to do it professionally. If you provide the background information too early, you risk losing the reader’s interest. However, if you offer it too late, the reader may not be able to understand your points. Learn how much information to include and how to add background details at just the right place in your work.
What Is Background Information?
Background information is the additional information your reader needs to know to understand your work. It might include things like definitions, historical context, current events that have bearing on your writing, or other information. Background information does not directly support your thesis in an essay or paper, but it is necessary for your reader to understand your thesis.
How Do You Write Background Information in an Essay or Paper?
How, and just as importantly, where, you write the background information can make or break your paper. Before you look at examples, think about your own essay and keep these tips in mind.
Only Include the Background Information Your Reader Needs
Including too much information risks overwhelming the reader and veering off topic. Including too little information means leaving your reader confused. The key is to consider your reader carefully and ask yourself a few questions:
- What does your reader already know about your topic?
- Will you be using jargon or specific terminology your reader may not know already?
- Does your reader need more context to truly understand your points?
- What is the minimum amount of background information you can provide that will give your reader the facts he or she needs?
Only Share Background Information After the Hook
Typically, the background information goes in your essay or research paper introduction, right after the hook. You need to capture the reader’s attention first with compelling details or quotes. Only after you have the attention of your audience can you afford to share the background details. If you share the details first, your reader may not continue reading.
However, it’s also important to make sure you include the background information quickly in the introduction. If you wait until later in the body of the essay or paper, your reader may not fully understand your thesis.
Successful Background Information Examples
The following examples show that adding background information doesn’t have to be distracting for the reader. You can see how this works in a variety of pieces, including personal essays, research papers, and more. In each example, the background information is italicized.
“Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion
In this famous personal essay by Joan Didion, notice how the introduction grabs your attention and then quickly gives you some background information about Didion’s life. The reader learns here that Didion is 20 in the essay, that she has just moved to New York, and that she's from Sacramento. You can read the rest of this essay in Didion’s book, Slouching Toward Bethlehem.
It’s easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves on the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I’d ever heard sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again.
“You and the Atom Bomb” by George Orwell
This 1945 political essay by Orwell instantly captures the reader’s attention by mentioning total destruction and then follows up with a paragraph of background information. It’s a perfect example of how background information is important and how a skilled writer can provide it without losing the reader’s attention. You can read the rest of it at The Orwell Foundation.
Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years, the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as might have been expected. The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb “ought to be put under international control.” But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us, namely: “How difficult are these things to manufacture?”
Such information as we – that is, the big public – possess on this subject has come to us in a rather indirect way, apropos of President Truman’s decision not to hand over certain secrets to the USSR. Some months ago, when the bomb was still only a rumour, there was a widespread belief that splitting the atom was merely a problem for the physicists, and that when they had solved it a new and devastating weapon would be within reach of almost everybody.
“Principles of Immunization as Applied to Poliomyelitis and Influenza” by Jonas Salk
Background information is just as important in a research paper introduction as it is in an essay. Jonas Salk, who earned a Nobel prize for inventing a vaccine for polio, was also a gifted writer. In this paper, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1953 before the polio vaccine had been developed, he explains how immunization for polio would work. He has to give background information about immunizations and explain some terminology before talking about his specific work with polio.
Without entering upon a discussion of the question of the mechanism whereby antibody is effective in the prevention of the microbial diseases, let us make the now reasonable assumption that the relationship between antibody and resistance is more than one of mere association - that it is one of cause and effect. It would follow from this that it would be desirable to raise and maintain the level of serum antibody above a critical threshold, because in so doing it may be expected that immunity will result. From evidence already available for influenza and poliomyelitis it is clear that the question which really concerns us is not whether this is so, but rather how it may be accomplished. It is the purpose of this presentation to attempt to answer this question.
It has long been known that antibody formation occurs, not only as a result of an infectious process which is accompanied by symptoms of disease, but following asymptomatic infections as well. Moreover, it has been shown that antibody formation may also be induced when a properly constituted preparation of a toxin, modified to be free of danger and called a toxoid, is injected, or, if a suitably killed bacterial or viral suspension is similarly employed. Thus,it would appear that the natural methods for inducing immunity may be simulated by exploiting one or more approaches based upon these fundamental considerations.
Master the Introduction to Add Background Information
As these examples show, the key to adding background information to research papers and essays is to master the art of the introduction. If you capture the reader’s attention first, you give yourself the opportunity to add the details the reader needs to understand your work.