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CLAS 166: Ancient Paintings & Mosaics (Perry): Start Your Research Process

Fall 2022

Start Your Process


Here are some general tips to guide you in choosing your search terms:

- Use keywords or brief (2-word) phrases instead of sentences -- one or two for each part of your topic.

- Use concepts and other nouns as your keywords.  Think of words that are likely to be used in titles (or that you have seen in titles).

- If your keywords aren't turning up many results, you may need to:

  • Try thinking of synonyms or other ways of phrasing your topic. If you can find one or two relevant articles, check to see what subjects are listed for them and try to build keywords from there. 
  • Try a broader search (broader topic, broader date-range, etc.).
  • Try a different database.

Having trouble getting started? This worksheet will walk you through the process of brainstorming keywords: 


In order to choose an appropriate research tool, you should consider your research needs. What do you need at this point in time? Are you still becoming familiar with your topic, or are you trying to fill specific gaps? 

  • If you're just getting started, you may want to choose CrossSearch and look for books or e-books (or, choose some of the recommended background resources on this guide). 
  • If you're doing deeper research, determine what angle you are focusing on for this search. Do you need archaeological studies of a particular site? Are you researching Minoan burial practices? Or do you just need to know what's going on in Roman history at a particular point in time? There's probably a (subject-focused) database for that! 

Need help selecting a research tool? Consult your professor, or a librarian! 


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! 

This graphic is designed to help you understand what sources might look like when studying the ancient world. 


Part 1: What are scholarly 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 for an audience of other scholars. The chart below compares the characteristics of scholarly vs. popular (non-scholarly) sources:  Handout version of popular vs. scholarly source chart; click to enlarge

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:

  • Due to the time required for a scholarly article to be researched, written, go through the peer review process and then be published, it can be difficult to find scholarly articles published about recent events, discoveries, etc.. You should expect 1-2 years between the time an event occurs or a discovery is made and the time academic research on that event begins to be published, with some exceptions! 
  • News articles, correspondence and other 'popular sources' can also provide useful insights, again depending on your topic.  
  • There are also plenty of reliable sources (like the Oxford Classical Dictionary) which are not technically "scholarly" by the classic definition, yet are highly respected sources which are academic in nature. 

    Part 2: Checking Facts

No matter what you're researching or what kinds of information you're working with, you should always situate your source within the context of the timeline, the audience, the content, etc. Think of it like doing a background check! 

Check Your Facts! 
Fact, Fiction, or Something In-Between?  You be the judge! 
Ask yourself these questions to evaluate sources of information. 
Is this information current? Does the time frame matter?
Who is the author, publisher or sponsor of this information? 
Is this information supported by evidence? 
Who is the intended audience of this information?
What is the purpose of this information - to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade? 

Classics Librarian

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Jennifer Whelan
Coordinator of Research & Information Literacy

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