Working toward an ALM degree and writing your thesis can be a remarkable intellectual and personal experience.
At the end of the journey, you'll be a changed person. For one thing, you'll have, quite literally, mastered a subject. You'll have figured out a way to advance a proposition clearly and convincingly. And you'll have expressed that hard-won knowledge, publicly and officially, in a written document: the thesis or capstone article.
Along the way, you'll have developed habits of critical thinking that will affect your engagement with the world and the actors in it long after the thesis is done.
Your road to the ALM will not always be straightforward, however. Some stretches will be smooth and others will seem uncomfortably bumpy. You might head down some blind alleys, especially at the beginning. You'll arrive at crossroads that might require you to change your research direction; you might even have to pave your own path, pioneer style, in still-uncharted intellectual territory.
This guide is meant to help you navigate the terrain, first by identifying general strategies for getting yourself organized and advice on common researcher pitfalls you can avoid.
Additionally, you'll find here a refresher on HOLLIS searching (for those who've been away from Harvard, or their thesis project, for a while); a description of several of the cross-disciplinary databases librarians most commonly recommend; and some methods texts that ALM instructors regard highly.
Contact us anytime with questions big or small, and enjoy your CTP adventure!
Mary Frances Angelini, Research Librarian for the Harvard Extension School
Jonathan Paulo, Online Learning and Research Librarian for DCE
Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs, Harvard College Library
It combines the extensive contents of our library catalog, a database that identifies every item owned by every Harvard Library with another, massive collection of journal, newspaper, and magazine articles.
When you search "everything" you're searching both of these databases together, at once. For better or for worse, "everything" is our system default.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by either the numbers or types of results your "Everything" search returns, try one of these options:
Limit your Everything search results set just to the items listed in the LIBRARY CATALOG.
Your numbers will immediately get smaller. Keep in mind, though, that the results will be heavily weighted toward book-length studies.
Limit your Everything search results set to items that are identified as PEER REVIEWED ARTICLES.
You'll eliminate newspaper and magazine materials as well as books, of course, but you'll also raise the visibility of scholarly journal articles in what displays.
Think about limiting your results to publications from the last 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.
By doing so you'll get a snapshot of the most recent research trends and scholarly approaches in a field (or around a particular issue).
Keep in mind: not all the items you discover via an "everything" search are Harvard-owned.
1. Use QUOTATION MARKS for phrases:
"united states" | "war on terror"
2. Connect search terms and phrases explicitly with AND/OR and do so with capital letters:
"free exercise" AND religion AND challenge
3. Enclose synonyms or interchangeable concepts in PARENTHESES:
(twitter OR "social media" OR cellphones) AND "arab spring"
4. Truncate words with an ASTERISK to pick up alternatives:
psycholog* will retrieve psychology, psychological
5. FILTER your results via right side limit categories. They'll help you sharpen up and whittle down your search results by date, language, resource type, to peer-reviewed articles, and more.
6.Take advantage of special system features: always SIGN IN.
7. Using the icon, SAVE A GOOD SEARCH so you can remember what word combinations worked best -- and use them in other databases you might search.
Your "default" approach to searching Harvard's catalog, HOLLIS, is probably similar to your Google approach: enter some words, see what comes up, then try again or improve from there.
But BROWSING in the catalog is an under-appreciated research strategy, especially when you're trying to discover your interest.
It helps you see, for example, how writing ABOUT an author, an idea, an event, etc. has been broken down and categorized. So instead of getting the typical list of titles, you see results in terms of sub-topics. Inspiration may lie there!
Open HOLLIS. Click on the link above the search box. Then select SUBJECT.
What does a Browse search give you? Click on the image above to find out!
When you're far from Cambridge, identifying books in print and on shelves in Harvard's library buildings can seem like a futile exercise. You can, however, often get your hands on items your find in HOLLIS even if you live many miles away from the Yard.
1. WorldCat: this is a database of library catalogs and useful for identifying college, university, and other library collections that are in your vicinity. Search for the title and then enter your ZIPCODE to identify your options.
With WorldCat, you're going beyond the BorrowDirect consortium and beyond our reciprocal lending agreements. However, as long as any of the area libraries allow you in (often a phone call or a scan of the website will clarify policy), you'll be in luck!
2. Check the catalog of the large PUBLIC LIBRARY in your area. Depending on the region, the size of the library, its mission, and its funding, a local public library may have a significant research component to its collection (The Boston Public Library at Copley Square is a prime example).
3. Ask your local library about an INTERLIBRARY LOAN. Libraries routinely borrow from each other on behalf of their patrons; if you have a library card, you should be able to request it (or have a librarian do so). ILL can take a bit of time, however. You might wait a week or a bit more before the item arrives. Some places charge a small fee for the service.
4. Borrow Direct Plus: currently enrolled Extension School students who live near a member library of this consortium can obtain a card that allows access to the collections and privileges similar to those at Harvard libraries.
5. If you live close by the college or university from which you graduated, ask about ALUMNI PRIVILEGES there
PRO SEARCHING TIPS :
Despite the fact that our physical items are unavailable and buildings are shuttered, HOLLIS can and should continue to be a key research resource, wherever students are. That's in part because of the sheer size and enormous variety of what it contains, but also because the online content students can surface there is substantial.
1. Search HOLLIS as you typically would (we give some advice on constructing effective search strings here). Results can then be limited, via the right-side filters, to materials ONLINE.
The limiter for online materials (like other filters) can be locked for the duration of your HOLLIS search session. When you apply the filter, it will, by default, look like this: When locked, the icon color changes to blue:
Locking filters is a useful option when you want to modify a search, do a completely new search, jump to a subject heading string,etc. You can mix and match locked and unlocked filters, too, as in this example:
2. Many publishers are opening up temporary, emergency access to a wide array of e-books, textbooks, and digital materials that fuel scholarship. Listed below are several that may have particular utility for students and faculty working on social science and interdisciplinary research projects.
HathiTrust Emergency Library: If we have it, and HathiTrust has a digitized copy, you'll be able to check it out, reserves-style. Presently, loan are given for 1 hour, renewable if there's no waiting list. The key here is be sure you click on the button, top right and choose Harvard University.
Internet Archive Open Library: 1 million-plus books made available digitally to promote teaching, research and learning. Create a free account; if an item is available, you can 'check it out" for 14 days.
This database can be a good next step once you've explored content available in HOLLIS, particularly if you feel overwhelmed -- or sometimes, underwhelmed -- by the journal and article search results you've uncovered there.
While much of what ASP searches is from scholarly sources, generous amounts also come from newspaper and general interest magazines. Like HOLLIS, ASP casts a wide net, so you might see your topic treated from a number of disciplinary angles or through a variety of theoretical lenses.
GOOD TO NOTE:
Given what ASP includes in its database, result sets can sometimes have more breadth than scholarly depth.
For a thesis project, you'll almost certainly need to supplement your searching of it with databases that more comprehensive cover the scholarly conversations in your particular social science discipline.
One of the first, and still the best known of our full-text scholarly databases. JSTOR provides access to the contents of 2600 core academic journals, in 60 knowledge domains in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
Much of the journal content in JSTOR has a "moving wall," a set period of time in which the most current volumes, issues, and articles of a particular journal are not available online for reading and downloading. (Depending on the journal title, the moving wall may be anywhere between 1 and 5 years). In a few instances, the moving wall has been eliminated altogether.
Don't be put off by the name of this resource: the social sciences (and humanities) are also well-represented in this important, multidisciplinary database of over 20,000 journals.
Unlike most databases, WoS results display, by default, in reverse chronological order. Sometimes that's what you do want to see: the most recently published work at the top of your list.
But if you need to see your results another way, WoS offers other ways to resort, including
Social Sciences Premium Collection
With an aim to facilitate cross-disciplinary research, SSPC combines, in one place, the contents of several of the most important databases for of the social sciences, among them Sociological Abstracts, Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, and the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences.
Journals, including non-English language ones, working papers and reports, dissertations, magazine and trade publications are among the types of documents you might turn up by searching SSPC.
SMART SEARCHING TIP:
Given its purpose, the SSPC, much like HOLLIS, can return result sets that seem enormous. But you have options to control what you see:
Most of the research databases you use search for information differently than Google Scholar. Most base their results lists on "metadata" -- the descriptive information about items that identifies features in certain fields (title, author, table of contents, subject terms, etc.).
While Google Scholar's algorithms account for some of this same information, it adds full-text into the mix when it retrieves, sorts, and ranks search results.
What does this mean for you? Sometimes, better relevance, especially on the first page or so. And sometimes, given that it searches full-text, Google Scholar might reveal more quickly than our databases where a hard-to-find nugget of scholarly information is hidden away in a published article.
So have it your repertoire: just be sure you maximize its utility to you by adjusting your Google Scholar settings, as described in section 2 (number 3)above.
Google Scholar can also be a good place to do a "cited reference" search in order to trace scholarly reaction to/engagement a particular article forward in time.