Honors students receive special borrowing privileges from the Libraries. These include:
General Research Strategies:
Be realistic about the size of the topic that you can tackle. Consider the limitations of your timeline and available materials. It's better to address a focused topic well than to address a broader topic poorly because you are trying to cover too much material.
Begin your research early. Well-done research is an iterative process; leave yourself time for this process to occur! This has the added benefit of extending your resources to excellent sources outside of Holy Cross Libraries, and especially those available to you in Washington.
Be efficient. Use the strategies we will discuss (such as: choosing appropriate and multiple research tools; making use of advanced search features; thoughtful choice of keywords; following your sources) to conduct your research in a targeted, effective and efficient manner.
Follow your sources. Examine the context of those sources (i.e., the scholarly conversation they participate in) and allow that context to lead you to other sources. For example: what else has this author written? What other useful sources are referenced? What other sub-conversations might I want to participate in?
Ask for help as needed. Research librarians are available to assist you -- it's literally our job! Sometimes this may mean making a research appointment; other times, a quick e-mail conversation will suffice.
Browsing the Stacks [when possible]:
Browsing library stacks can be a valuable technique to expand research on your topic, no matter where you are. This is perhaps even more true when using libraries whose catalogs you are unfamiliar with.
Most academic libraries, including the libraries at Holy Cross, use a system called Library of Congress Classification (LCC) to organize books. Each book or journal is identified by a unique call number. Unlike call numbers in the Dewey Decimal System, LCC call numbers include a combination of both letters and numbers. These call numbers identify the location of the book in the stacks; they also identify the subject (or the main subject if there are more than one) of the book or journal.
Because call numbers are subject-based, it is possible to physically view most of the books on a given topic in one area of the library. This means that it is possible to visit the stacks and browse the selection of materials on your topic, and that the number section for your topic should be the same, even in different libraries.
To begin, you can....
(a) Locate a book on your topic in the library catalog, and note the call number; OR
(b) Identify the LCC call number range that corresponds to your topic, by viewing this list.
This will tell you the area of the library where you should begin browsing. If your topic is complex or multidisciplinary, there may be more than one area that you should visit.
Why browse the stacks?
It's true -- it might require less effort to virtually 'visit' the library stacks via the website. And, the catalog is a great way to find both e- and print materials on your topic. However, because the catalog relies on keyword searching, sometimes truly relevant titles slip through the cracks -- maybe your keyword wasn't in the description of the book recorded in the catalog (these descriptions are not always comprehensive), or appeared in a slightly different form.
When you visit a library's stacks, you can view all of the books on the shelf (so long as they are in the right spot!) and see what you might be missing. Often, browsing the shelf will turn up an even better resource than the one you were originally searching for. It's also possible that, in going through a long list of search results, you overlooked a title that is a little more eye-catching on the shelf!
Expanding on Existing Research:
No piece of research stands alone; each is part of a broader scholarly conversation in that topic/ field. You can use a single article or other resource to find other, similar research by tracing the paths of that conversation:
Keywords – Check the abstract, subject terms and full-text to discover the vocabulary being used in this particular scholarly conversation.
Subject Terms – Subject terms not only provide insight into vocabulary you should use but also serve as search tools – click on these tags in any database (or the catalog) to find more resources on a given topic.
Cited References – Check the references list (or bibliography) to see what previous research this resource is drawing on. From here, you may wish to consider:
- Previous articles or books published on your topic
- Other authors who have published on your topic
- Journals where your topic is frequently discussed
Times Cited – Check Google Scholar to see which articles or books have cited your sources, and to find
more-recent research which builds on your original information.
** Once you find a new resource, you can also trace the scholarly conversation around that book/article to find even more resources! **
For a simpler, graphic representation of this research strategy, download the handout below:
Interrogating Your Sources:
Who is the author?
How is the author qualified?
Is the author an expert?
What is the author's bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated -- but there is almost always some bias!))
Be wary if you cannot determine an author or group responsible for the content you are reading.
What is the source? Is it a research report? An entertainment piece? An opinion essay?
What does this tell you about the source's audience, purpose, and potential bias(es) or shortcoming(s)?
Is the source recent (or, if digital, regularly updated)? When was it published?
Is there any information which seems out-of-date?
Who hosts the site? OR Who publishes this resource?
Does the host/publisher have bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)
What is the domain extension?
The publisher and/or doman can help you determine how reputable a website is. For example, .gov is the domain for United States government sites and .edu is for US Educational institutuions. Note that not all .com sites are unreliable and not all .org sites are reputable -- .org simply means that the website is for a non-profit group.
What is the purpose and audience of the source?
What is the benefit, and/or who benefits, if this source reaches and/or successfully convinces readers?
By what means was this source created?
Does the resource provide its sources?
Does it refer/link you to other credible sources?
Can you determine whether the information came from, and whether the original source/info is represented accurately?
Be wary of any source which does not reference sources, especially when it contains information that clearly or at least likely originated somewhere else. First, failing to cite sources is unethical, and reflects poorly on the author(s)! Second, without knowing the original source, you can't adequately evaluate the weaknesses and/or biases of the information, or know if it is even being represented faithfully in the "secondary" source.
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources:
Scholarly sources are written by experts on a particular subject (for example, a professor or other researcher). They also go through an extra process of review and approval by a group of other experts before they can be published. Usually, scholarly articles are written in 'academic-ese' and designed to be read by other scholars. However, because scholarly sources take a long time to be approved and published, they are not always good sources for current events.
|AUTHOR||Usually staff writers and/or journalists||Experts on the topic -- usually researchers, scholars and/or professors|
|AUDIENCE||General public (for "popular" consumption)||Other experts (and students) in the field|
|EDITING & REVIEW||Editor(s); generally concerned with grammar, style, etc., with some fact-checking||Other experts ("peer reviewed"); generally concerned with quality, thoroughness of research, strength of argument, etc.|
|STYLE & DESIGN||
Reasonably brief, typically uses colloquial if not informal language. Often illustrated with graphics, sidebars and other aesthetic elements. Sometimes accompanied by ads.
|More extensive in length; tends to be more formal and uses specialized vocabulary. Illustrations and charts are used only when furthering content.|
|GOAL or PURPOSE||To entertain; and/or, to share general information||To share findings, advance and argument and/or engage with other scholars|
|SOURCES||Few or none; if sources are used, there may not be formal citations.||Typically uses many sources, cited in detailed bibliographies, footnotes and/or endnotes|
|EXAMPLES||Time Magazine; Sports Illustrated; New Yorker; Boston Globe||Annual Review of Political Science; American Historical Review; Sociology of Education|
It's important to keep in mind that scholarly sources are not always the best or only source available to you -- it depends on what information you are trying to find:
The Information Lifecycle:
The Information Lifecycle helps us understand how information about an event, topic or idea might emerge and evolve over time.
Note that this timeline is just a general sense of the information lifecycle -- the exact timing can vary greatly from one discipline to another!
in the Humanities
In humanities research, a primary source is a first-hand witness to a historical event or period (that is, it was originally created at that point in history). Primary sources offer a first-hand perspective which is untouched by hindsight, subsequent events, or modern knowledge. They provide insights about the actions, motivations and emotions involved in a historical period, and allow us to understand history as it was experienced at the time rather than as we analyze it today.
Unlike with secondary sources, the value of primary sources lies in their proximity to the event rather than a particular publication venue and/or authority (though this can also play a role in your interpretation of the source). For this reason, primary sources may include a combination of scholarly, popular, unpublished, and other kinds of sources.
Secondary sources are second-hand witnesses -- they provide descriptions and/or analysis of historical events and documents after the fact. Secondary sources usually draw their information from primary sources, but add a layer of interpretation, and often rely upon the kind of understanding of historical periods and/or events that only becomes clear sometime later.
in the Sciences
In the natural and social sciences, on the other hand, primary and secondary sources are usually distinguished by their proximity to the original research being reported upon.
Primary/Research articles are scholarly sources that provide valuable first-hand information about research being conducted in a given discipline. These articles directly present the experiments/studies and subsequent results currently being conducted in the field, as presented by the scholars who conducted these studies. You can identify these sources by their use of sections such as methodology, results/findings, etc., that indicate reporting of primary research, i.e., research actually conducted by the author(s). Primary research may use observational, experimental or descriptive research methods.
Secondary/Review articles are also a type of scholarly/academic, or peer-reviewed, source that provides valuable information about research being done in the field. However, they are a step removed in that the authors of Secondary/Review articles are reporting on research that has been conducted by other scholars, rather than sharing the results of their own research. These articles usually lack the primary research indicators of methodology, results, etc. and may take the form of, for example, metadata articles (articles that collect, compile and present data from many studies into one article), literature reviews, and/or clinical trials.