What is Background Information in an Essay

Many of our readers might have never heard of the background information in an essay. Nevertheless, it is a very common and rather popular element, often used in college and university essays by students. Like with many things in life, background information in an essay is a double-edged sword: there are many examples of how it can sharply enhance the value of one’s text when used in the right way, just as there are many examples of how much it can diminish the persuasive value of one’s point or position.

Background Information in an Essay

What is Background Information in an Essay?

Background information in an essay is typically a short additional piece of information, which can explain, persuade, describe, or classify the writer’s position or thesis statement.  There is a strict guideline as to where this type of information is positioned in an essay – in 99% of cases it is placed in the introductory part, right after the hook or the thesis statement. On rare occasions, it may be placed in the bottom page footnotes or even appendixes.

All major examples of background information in an essay have it italicized, i.e. formatted in italics font style.

Unless you are absolutely sure that background information will indeed add value to your introduction, you should not bother and attempt to include it there. Too long information would almost certainly distract the reader from the main topic or point, whereas badly phrased or inappropriately formulated background information would stop the audience from reading further.

Types of Background Information in an Essay

Before we move to particular examples of background information in an essay, let’s briefly outline the main types of background information:

  • Descriptive background information. This is the most common type, which helps the reader to understand the topic. It usually appeals to both common sense and emotions, and often uses particular examples from one’s life and experience.
  • Biographical background information. A type of background information in an essay (usually a narrative type) where the author provides his biographical information, including childhood, education, work experience, and family details.
  • Definition background information. Sometimes, when we write an essay on a scientific topic, or simply need to use a specific term, our readers may not share the same vocabulary and knowledge as we do. In such cases, providing a definition of a term or phenomenon mentioned in the introduction will aid the reader’s understanding.
  • Persuasive background information. Writing a persuasive essay type or simply aiming to influence the reader, we may need to support our thesis statement with additional background information, which often includes examples from real life.
  • Classification background information. This type of background information in an essay is used to further interest the reader by in-depth classification of the used terminology. This can be a simple attribution of a term to a particular group, or a detailed list of examples of all possible terms within a group or a category.
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Examples of Background Information in an Essay

Here is an example of background information (combining definition and classification types) in an essay on the topic “The virtual reality is more than simply a fun tool”:

Virtual reality has come to make our lives more vivid and fun. It is widely used in the computer games industry, and kids are constantly enjoying new and more real-like computer games with advanced virtual reality algorithms. However, virtual reality is much more than just fun.

The term “virtual reality” with its modern meaning came into existence in the 1950s. It was borrowed from science fiction and denoted an alternative experience. Close to virtual reality is another widely used term “augmented reality”, which means a combination of both the real world and virtual reality elements.

Another example of background information in an essay (this time of a persuasive type) comes from the sphere of social media – “Should teenagers be held legally accountable for their posts on social media?”

A rather frivolous look at social media posting prevails among today’s teenagers. They grow up with smartphones in hand, which provide easy access to social media applications and make social communication as easy as playing computer games. Virtually anyone with a social media profile and a large group of followers can easily influence the public and either spread useful or harmful information with long-term implications. I think anyone, including teenagers, should be held legally accountable for their posts on social media platforms.

A famous Norwegian mass killer, Anders Breivik, has posted a series of anti-globalization and anti-social calls on his social media channels before committing mass murder. The vast majority of readers strongly criticized his posts and his actions, while a small group of marginal and radical teenagers was influenced by Breivik’s ideas, which have planted seeds of violence for similar crimes in the future.

The Key Takeaway

Background information in an essay is a double-edged sword – it can be extremely useful, as well as harmful to one’s essay. There are many examples of how brief and sharp background information has helped writers to grab their readers’ attention and significantly enhance the value of their essay texts. Anyone should think twice about the nature and type of background information before including it in their writing.