Phase B—Background Information


“I know what others have done before, either in the form of writing or action, that informs and connects with my project, and I know what others are doing now.”


Once you have an initial formulation of your proposed project (Phase A), you can start to find out what others have done that informs and connects with that project. This research may influence your project in several ways: You can build on what others have written and done; you can make connections with others in your area and cultivate them as supporters of your work; you can refine your project formulation after noticing what grabs you and what turns you off about what others have written and done; and you can expand your view of what your project entails.

Tools and Processes

5 F's
Key Article
Initial Guide
Active Digestion of readings and conversations
Annotating readings
Sense-Making Response
Annotated Bibliography


5 F's: All through your background research allow for a continuing interplay among Find, Focus, Filter, Face Fears, and File.

In session 2
Learn or refresh bibliographic searching skills using guides provided by your University or public library. Use databases to locate articles or sections in books that provide what you need to move forward in your research. In order to identify the range of publications relevant to your project now—rather than when it is too late in the project to be useful—look especially for a Key Article that provides you with a rich set of references to follow up on (and thus move you towards meeting the goal of Phase B).

After session 2
Establish an off-site connection to a University or public library, bookmarking the link on your internet browser. Establish your on-paper and on-computer Research Organization, which includes your bibliographic and note-taking systems, your Personal and Professional Development (PPD) Workbook, and filing of research materials and any other handouts.

Continue background library, Internet, and phone research to find out what others have written and done that informs your evolving project. Actively digest what you read and conversations you have (using the Five F's, Annotating what you are reading, or spelling out a Sense-Making Response). Digestion is essential because, if your project is to progress, you have to sort out which of the many articles that you locate provide information that you need and to clarify how they connect with your project. Allow yourself to work on both the creative and the critical aspects—opening up your topic to more and more considerations, and seeking order and priority in the overabundance of material produced by the creative aspect. As Elbow (1981, p. 8-12) recommends, alternate these aspects, so as not to let one stifle the other, as you define and refine a manageable project.

If, at first, you do not find written material on your topic, do not give up. Even if what you are doing turns out to be unique, searching for the work of others will clarify the ways in which your topic is unique. It is a common trap to say you have tried and failed to find something when, actually, you are protecting yourself from unarticulated fears and self-doubts by not trying very hard, making time, asking for help, following leads, and so on. It is better to face your fears now rather than have them limit what you can do. In that spirit, identify an Initial Guide for your inquiries in their early unformed stage and arrange to talk with that person.

By session 3
For an article or section in a book you find, submit a Sense-Making Response to show how it affirms and extends your thinking about your proposed research.

By session 4
Have ready for your advisor and peers to hear about or read: Initial Guide, Key Article, and initial version of Annotated Bibliography.

Follow up

By session 4 the materials that you have located and digested may have led to a number of revisions of your Governing Question. If you are overwhelmed by how much you are finding out, you are ready to clarify direction through the activities of Phase C. Even as you move ahead, continue to locate and digest what others have written and done. You might well find yourself near the end of the time available for your project before you can truly say that you have met the goal of Phase B.

Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with Power. New York: Oxford University Press.