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ALM Research Guide: Social Sciences Edition



Working toward an ALM degree and writing your thesis can be a remarkable intellectual and undefinedpersonal 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


Ways To Set Yourself Up For Success

1. Download Zotero.


This free, open source citation management tool makes the process of collecting and organizing citations, incorporating them into your paper, and creating a bibliography or works cited page stress-free and nearly effortless. 

It's worth the small investment of time to learn Zotero as you start the proposal process. A good guide, produced by Harvard librarians, is here:

2.  Have a file backup plan  ... just in case.

Everybody who writes a thesis or dissertation can tell you about one minor (or major) disaster that befell them: data corruption, viruses, chapters that "disappear" into the ether forever. Having multiple copies, accessible in multiple ways, is essential. An external hard drive, a USB key you keep somewhere, even printed copies of your work, stored safely somewhere, will help you sleep soundly as deadlines approach.

Free cloud storage solutions to consider include Google DriveDropBox, or (if you're a Microsoft user) OneDrive.  

Zotero gives you free, unlimited storage for the journal articles and research materials you access in PDF form and the notes you make about them. For this service, just register with your Harvard email address.

3. Change your Google Scholar settings to get around article paywalls. 

The content is excellent; the search interface is intuitive; but your ability to read what you find is often frustrated by the request to pay for the information or to supply "login" credentials you may not have. One simple change unlock that content.  Here's what to do: 

  • Look to the left of the GS screen and click on the menu bars()
  • Click on . Select "Library Links." 
  • Then type Harvard University into the search box and save your choice.  
  • Once your Google Scholar settings are active, you'll start to see  to the right of your search results.  

​​Other good ways to identify full-text content options: 

4.  Make use of our document delivery services: Scan and Deliver and Interlibrary Loan.


When an article you need is available in a print journal at Harvard but not online, you can ask us to make a PDF for you through a service called Scan and Deliver. We'll send you an email when it's ready for downloading, typically between 1 and 4 days after you place the request. Scan and Deliver is a free service to Harvard affiliates.

If Harvard doesn't own the journal, or doesn't provide you online access, an interlibrary loan is your easiest solution.  Place your order by logging into ILL account from the HOLLIS main search page (look to the lower left). Interlibrary Loan is a free service for Harvard affiliates.

Scan and Deliver is also an option if you want a single chapter of a Harvard-owned book digitized for your use.  

If you're close to campus, and need a book Harvard doesn't own (or that's already checked out), Borrow Direct is your best first line of defense. If Borrow Direct doesn't have it, use Interlibrary Loan.

Distance student needing print books can't request them through Borrow Direct. However, see our discussion of WorldCat, next slide. 

5. Find copies of books in WorldCat, if you're far from the Harvard campus.


WorldCat is a catalog combining the contents from 10.000 libraries across North America (and some worldwide).  Search your book titles in WorldCat to identify college or university libraries geographically closer to you that own a copy. Often you can arrange to use the material onsite, even if you aren't given borrowing privileges. 

If WorldCat lists a public library in your area, your research needs might also be met there.  

Often, they'll have significant scholarly collections, significant collections of government documents, and special collections. They'll also have on-site expertise to support these services and collections, and you consult librarians there. 

The Boston Public Library at Copley Square and the New York Public Library exemplify this type: they serve serious researchers, casual users, and the local community at once, but in different ways.

6. Know when, where, and how to get academic support ... and from whom.