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 on this guide (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?
Consult a librarian as needed. Research librarians are available to assist you -- it's literally our job! Sometimes this may mean making a research appointment (and yes -- you can schedule a phone call, Zoom, or chat with us) ; other times, a quick e-mail conversation will suffice.
BRAINSTORM. Spend a few minutes thinking about what words could be used to describe the topic. Be as specific as you can.
EXPAND. For each of the words you listed, think of other words or phrases you could use that mean the same thing.
USE EXPERT SEARCH TRICKS. AND and OR make your search more or less specific, giving you more sources to choose from.
PIVOT AS NEEDED. If you aren't finding much, try...
TRACE-ING RESEARCH LEADS
No piece of research stands alone; each is part of a broader scholarly conversation in that topic/ field. These resources have clues that you can TRACE, if you know how to look!
Terms– Check the abstract, subject terms and article for concepts and terms that you can use for your future searches.
Reported in– Is the journal where the article was printed relevant? Try searching for other articles from this journal.
Author– What else has the author(s) published on this topic? Search the databases for their other publications
Consulted by - 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.
Evidence -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
Tools for TRACE-ing:
BROWSING THE STACKS:
Browsing library stacks can be a valuable technique to expand research on your topic, no matter where you are.
Most academic libraries, including Dinand, 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 the Library of Congress Classification Outline.
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.
You can also watch our Call Numbers video tutorial📺 to learn more about how call numbers work. While the way that specific libraries apply call numbers may vary slightly, the basic principles will be the same.
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!
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!
Lateral Reading is a more nuanced technique of evaluating websites and other kinds of sources.
While the questions on the previous page are a great place to start, sometimes you can't answer them completely -- or, sometimes, they don't give a complete picture of the information you are looking at.
The video below explains what lateral reading is, why it's important, and how to do it.
SCHOLARLY & 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:
PRIMARY & SECONDARY SOURCES
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.
|author||A first-hand witness to a historical event or period||A second-hand witness who interprets first-hand information using later understanding of events|
|date||Typically, but not always, published in or near the relevant time period or event. Exceptions can include memoirs or compilations, translations, etc. published at a later date.||Typically removed in time from the relevant period/event|
|original purpose||Varies widely. Typically not intentionally created for sake of history or research.||Varies; usually, to convey information or analysis|
Offers first-hand perspectives untouched by hindsight or modern knowledge
|Offers descriptions, and/or analysis of historical events after the fact; may also offer synthesis of first-hand information.|
|publication format||Varies; can include nearly anything from an object to a scholarly article [if from the appropriate period]||Typically "published" sources -- books, journal articles, magazines/newspapers|
|examples||NYT article from April 1912 [Titanic], 1963 book on the USSR [Cold War], George Washington's collected papers [Colonial America/Revolution]||American Historical Review; current NYT articles; a book published in 2018|
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 domain extension? What is the source? Is it a research report? An entertainment piece? An opinion essay?
What is the domain extension? 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 published this resource?
Does the host/publisher have bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)
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?