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Research Guides@Tufts

PBL Research Guide

What's a Background Question?

Background questions:
  • Ask about general knowledge relating to a condition, diagnostic test, or treatment
  • Typically start with who, what, where, how, or why
  • Provide basis for formulating foreground questions
  • e.g., PBL learning questions

 For example:

"What is pericarditis and how is it treated?"

The best resources to use to find information for background questions are web resources, textbooks, point-of-care tools, practice guidelines, and review articles.  When looking for information in online resources, it's best to keep searches to essential keywords and short phrases.


Bottom of evidence pyramid resources like reviews, guidelines, and clinical reference texts are appropriate for background information.


The chart above illustrates the bottom of the evidence pyramid--these sources are good starting points and can help answer background questions. To learn more about these resources, see the sections below.


You might also be in need of other resources in the Beyond the Biology section of this guide.

Googling Effectively

Use Google to:

  • correct the spelling of a term
  • identify synonyms for a term
  • find information from reliable web sources, such as those on MLA's Top Health Websites
    • generally academic institutions (.edu), government websites (.gov), medical associations (.org)

Limitations of Google:

  • often consumer-health oriented websites
  • does not filter out biased, unauthoritative information

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