First and foremost, make your life easy: don't wait until the last minute to do research. Doing so will surely make the process of research stressful and not much fun. Research is interesting!
Why struggle with research when you don't have to: ask a librarian for assistance, or, better yet, make an appointment with a librarian. They can save you a great deal of time.
Please note that this is a very basic outline and is presented simply as a way for students to get started.
1. Think about and define your topic.
Write down your topic as if you're trying to describe it to someone who doesn't know anything about this topic. Try to write a complete, grammatically correct sentence, or pose your topic as a question: "What is it about Balanchine's ballets that makes them modern?" or "What was Rudolf von Larisch's influence on modern lettering and type design?" Review your ideas with your professor. Just talking about your idea with others is a good way to articulate your topic.
- A good method for developing and defining your topic is to look it up in an encyclopedia or dictionary (see step 3 below) related to your topic. Ask a librarian to show you some that might be helpful. Doing this gives you an idea of the scope of your topic and can help you to refine your idea.
2. Develop a list of subject headings or keywords.
Do a little brainstorming about your topic. Get out a piece of paper and make two or three columns. Across the top of your paper write a sentence or question about your topic. Using the columns, break apart your topic into its different concepts or parts -- the "who, what, why, when, where" of your topic. For example, if you want to write a paper on swing dance, your concepts might be:
|swing dance||social dance||1940s||United States|
3. Look in reference books. Ask a librarian to help you find the right ones or see if there's a library subject guide related to your topic.
As you use reference books, or go through any step of this process, you may find that you want to change your topic, or change the scope of it. This is part of the research process and is a good thing. If your topic must be instructor-approved, be sure to contact your instructor before you change it.
- EXPLOIT BIBLIOGRAPHIES
As you check reference materials, be on the lookout for bibliographies or recommended reading at the end of each entry. Check the UArts library catalog to see if those materials are in the library. This is a valid research method and one you should use.
4. Use the library catalog to find books on your topic.
Use any of the suggested subject headings in the library subject guides that sound right for you. Look for any items listed in a bibliography you may have gotten from reference books. If you notice the same authors and titles in several bibliographies, look up the author in our catalog. Subject searching not working? Try a keyword search.
Once you've found an item in the catalog, make sure you understand how to find it by call number.
5. Use an article database to find magazine and journal articles.
Ask a librarian which one is best for your topic, or read the descriptions to see which one sounds right.
Other tips and sources for research
• Keep track of your research. Note where you have looked and how you searched, even if you didn't find anything useful in each source. A librarian will want to know where you've already looked. This is especially important if you go to libraries other than the UArts Libraries.
• Start with a simple search and see if you need to narrow it.
- If you have a low number of hits, you may want to broaden your search by trying different words or eliminating some words from your search.
- If there's too much, you may want to focus your topic more or revise your search statement. Go back to the reference books to get a better idea of the scope of your topic.
• For the historical context of academic research and what it means, see UArts Music Librarian Mark Germer's essay, Introduction to Research and Documentation.
• Most UArts students should have a copy of A Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker, or a similar research guide. These books contain excellent research guides.
• Evaluate your sources! See Hacker's "Tips for Evaluating Sources" or http://www2.library.ucla.edu/libraries/Biomed/8011.cfm for some evaluation guidelines.
• Don't plagiarize! See our practical advice concerning plagiarism.