1. Don't re-invent the wheel: use others' work to fuel your own research.
- Use pre-existing subject bibliographies or indexes to find relevant sources.
- In the library catalog do a keyword search for "bibliography or indexes" as a Subject, and your topic either as a Subject or as Any Field.
- Use indexes, footnotes/endnotes and works cited from existing books or articles to locate other key resources on your topic.
- Use Google Scholar to find books and articles that have cited a work you've already read. Don't forget to set up your preferences!
- Identify and jot down key figures, movements and terms from existing scholarship to plug in as keywords in future searches.
2. Let your feet (and fingers) do the walking: physical (and virtual!) browsing can be as good or better than electronic searching.
- At the very least, you should know the call number ranges for your subject area and make time to frequently browse these areas.
3. Schedule for serendipity: browsing the library stacks is one of the best ways to discover new resources.
- Pulling books off the shelf and looking at the titles, tables of contents & indexes of adjacent books often leads to significant serendipitous discoveries.
- When retrieving a known book from the shelf never just pull the book you came for. Always look at (and IN) the books around it.
- In Primo (the library search), some records for books have a "Virtual Browse" option that allows you to see other relevant resources.
4. Get to know bibliographic records. They are your friends.
- Always take note of how an item has been cataloged/indexed. What are the Subject Headings/Descriptors? What are the other "access points"?
- Access points are the words, titles, names, or phrases that give you access (often through a link) to other records indexed/cataloged in the same way.
- Does the system allow you access to other similar books or articles by clicking on those access points? Try it! If this yields too many records, refocus your search by adding some of the subject terms you've seen in relevant records
- Take note of the "authoritative" rendering of the author's name (or book title). These may differ from what you might expect and knowing this "authoritative" form may help you in your searches.
5. Don't do it alone: Use library services.
- Reference help:the Main Library is open virtually 24/7. That means there is always someone at the help desk that you can call, chat with online, or talk to in person that can help you with your information or technology problem. Don't get frustrated! Ask for help!
- Interlibrary loan: articles requested through ILL take an average of 2-3 days (many much faster); books average 5-10 days.
- Document delivery: get an article or book chapter scanned and emailed to you.
6. Start broadly then limit thoughtfully.
- You have to learn what is "out there," and how the information is organized before you can search effectively.
- Searching should begin by testing the waters, so start by searching broadly.
- Start with just one or more search terms and then either add terms, or focus those terms (based on what you learn by looking at choice bibliographic records — see Rule #4) as you go.
- Be sure to take advantage of limiting your searches to particular "fields" of information (subject, title, author, citation, abstract, etc.), to particular date ranges, information sources (particular journals), or formats (newspapers, trade journals, scholarly journals, fulltext, etc.) if the database allows.
7. Don't avoid library catalogs.
- While library catalogs do not offer the immediate gratification of full-text online databases, they remain the primary avenue to the richest information sources
- If you still doubt the value of catalogs, revisit Research Rules #1-3 until you are convinced.
8. Learning about the history of research or criticism in the subject — including the relevant scholars — is as important as (and is part of) researching the subject.
- Understanding the context of scholarship, where it fits in the history of the field of study (what time, what country, what movement, etc.), should be a precursor to using that scholar's work or critical approach in your own work.
- Citing someone else's scholarship in your own work requires that you have some sense of how that person's work has been received over time.
- Not all criticism/research/scholarship is equal, nor is it fixed in value.
- To really know the major critical works in your field, you must also be familiar with the works cited in those major works.
10. Keep a good record of everything you look at (or at least everything you take notes from).
- Keeping good records will help you avoid unintended plagiarism.
- It also allows you quickly to double check sources. Thesis & dissertation writers can spend days on end searching for sources they forgot to document.
- Explore and find a citation manager that works best for you.
11. Join academic listservs. They are an invaluable resource (for now and later).
- Scholars or professionals in the field can be the best source for hard to find information.
- Joining listservs can help you learn about the profession and give you a good avenue for connecting with scholars outside of your institution.
- To identify key listervs in your field, speak with your course instructors.