Background Information

Definition of Background Information

As the name suggests, background information means all information that a reader requires to increase his awareness of the topic an essay is going to explain. Background information is placed shortly after the hook or attention grabber. Both are intertwined, as the hook cannot be separated from the background information.

Both are connected with a transition word. Usually, in a five-paragraph essay, background information comprises three to five sentences. However, in a longer essay, it could be more than 10 sentences or even a full paragraph. Generally it needs to be as long as necessary to inform readers on the topic. There are as many types of background information as there are types of essay, some of which are as follows:

Types of Background Information

  1. Description Type
    Description type of background information often describes the topic through sensory description involving all five senses: sense of touch, sense of smell, sense of sight, sense of hearing, and sense of taste. Words are used to make the reader experience any of these or all.
  2. Process Type
    In a process type of background information, a writer provides an introduction to the topic, telling readers what process will be used to achieve a goal, or complete a task.
  3. Definition Type
    In a definition type of background information, readers become aware of the definition of the topic, as well as how it differs from other such similar terms and words.
  4. Classification / Division Type
    In a classification / division type of background information, readers are informed about the topic, how it is classified and divided, and what further derivations it could have. These are further explained in body paragraphs.
  5. Argumentative Type
    In an argumentative type of background information, readers are informed about the topic, the arguments being made in support of the question about the topic ,and opposing arguments.
  6. Persuasive Type
    A persuasive type of background information attempts to persuade the reader, by giving information about a question.

Examples of Background Information in Literature

Example #1:  Politics and English Language (by George Orwell)

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.”

This is the second paragraph of an essay by George Orwell. It clearly tells how English language has faced decline in its standard due to certain causes. It is a good background to the topic of the essay “Politics and English Language.”

Example #2: I Twitter, Therefore I am (by Peggy Orenstein)

“I came late to Twitter. I might have skipped the phenomenon altogether, but I have a book coming out this winter, and publishers, scrambling to promote 360,000-character tomes in a 140-character world, push authors to rally their “tweeps” to the cause. Leaving aside the question of whether that actually boosts sales, I felt pressure to produce. I quickly mastered the Twitterati’s unnatural self-consciousness: processing my experience instantaneously, packaging life as I lived it.”

This is the background information of a beautiful essay by Peggy Orenstein, which she wrote for The New York Times. This background information shows that she cannot stop tweeting, as it has become her second nature.

Example #3: Is Google Making Us Stupid (by Nicholas Carr)

“For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded.”

These are just a few lines of background information in the essay of Nicholas Carr. These lines clearly show that the essay is about the Internet. As the essay is quite long, background information comprises an entire paragraph.

Function of Background Information

Background information serves the purpose of making readers aware of what is going to be discussed in the essay. It makes readers conscious of the pros and cons of the topic, and readies them to explore it further. It also presents a good assessment of what is to come. In a way, it enables readers to predict what is to come next, and how it is to be presented.