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! Stay curious.

Please note that this is a very basic outline and is presented as a way to get started. If you are having trouble getting started, do not hesitate to Ask a Librarian.

PDF version of this guide

Before you begin: read your assignment, and read it again to make sure you understand it. Clarify questions with your professor.

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 it. 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?"

Identify the main concepts and keywords. Do a little brainstorming about your topic. Mind mapping and list-making are great ways to get started. Get out a piece of paper and break apart your topic into its different concepts or parts -- the "who, what, when, where, why" of your topic. Talk to your instructor, classmates, and librarians. Click through the example below to see a mind map for surrealist films:

See step 2, Find Context and step 7, Ask a Librarian.

2. Find Context

A good method for developing and defining your topic is to start with reference books or online reference. Look up the keywords in an encyclopedia or dictionary related to your topic. Ask a librarian to help you find the right ones or see if there's a library subject guide related to your topic. Doing this gives you an idea of the scope of your topic and can help you to refine your idea (return to step 1).

Exploit bibliographies. As you check reference materials, be on the lookout for bibliographies or recommended reading at the end of each entry. Search the library catalog to see if those materials are available (see steps 3 and 4). Use this research method in all steps to follow.

As you start research, or go through any step of the research 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.

Revisit step 1. See step 7, Ask a Librarian.

3. Find Books

Use the keywords and subject headings that you have found in steps 1 and 2 to search the library catalog to find books (as well as video, audio, and ebooks). Print or write down the citation and the call number.

Once you've found an item in the catalog, make sure you understand how to find it by call number.

Revisit step 1. See step 7, Ask a Librarian.

4. Find Articles

Use online databases to find articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers. OneSearch is a good place to start, it searches almost all of our databases at once. Start with a simple search and see if you need to narrow it. Use the limiters in the left-hand column to focus on the items you're interested in. If you have a low number of hits, you may want to broaden your search by trying different keywords or eliminating some words from your search.

Be persistent and flexible. Just like your studio practice, research is nonlinear and iterative. If you aren’t finding what you need, change your search strategy or consider the scope of your topic (see step 1).

Revisit steps 1 and 2. Need help? See step 7, Ask a Librarian.

5. Evaluate

Evaluating the authority, relevance, and reliability of the information you find is a key step in the research process. Consider:

  • Why was this information made available?
  • Are the authors credible?
  • Do the authors cite their sources?
  • Has the information been reviewed?
  • Does the source fit your information needs?
  • When was the information published or updated?

See this Evaluating Resources guide from Ithaca College Library.

Revisit steps 3 and 4. Not sure? See step 7, Ask a Librarian.

6. Cite

Keep track of your research. Correct citations give credit to the ideas of others (avoiding plagiarism), and allow those who are reading your work to know where to look for more information (just as you have been exploiting bibliographies, see step 2).

Keeping your citations organized as you go along is critical. It helps you organize your research, make connections, as well as prepare your bibliography. The library databases have built-in citation tools. You can email, save, or copy/paste citations as you search. Always double-check that the automated citations are correct.

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. If you are using OneSearch/EBSCOhost, then create a personal account so you can save your search history.

Most UArts students should have a copy of A Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker, or a similar research guide. In addition to explaining citation, these books contain excellent research guides. There are several other places to look for citation help online, including the Purdue Owl and the MLA Style Center.

Revisit steps 2-4. See step 7, Ask a Librarian.

7. Ask a Librarian

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 time and eliminate some stress. You can stop by, call, email, or chat. All contact information is available on our contact page.

Jim Cowen, Access Services and Music Reference Librarian

Josh Roberts, Director for Library Operations

Jenny Roberts-Reilley, Instruction Librarian

Other tips and sources for research

Would you like some help writing your paper? Consult the UArts Advising Center, where they offer tutoring and assistance.

Don't plagiarize! See our practical advice concerning plagiarism.

Want to know more about research? Search the library catalog for the Research--Methodology subject heading.

For the historical context of academic research and what it means, see former UArts Music Librarian Mark Germer's essay, Introduction to Research and Documentation.

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Adapted from The Seven Steps Libguide created by Research and Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA.
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