Exploring Your Topic

Here are some methods for getting an overview of a large topic, bringing out its components and looking at it from a variety of perspectives.


You can use HOLLIS not only to find sources, but also to explore and analyze your topic of interest. 

Start with a keyword search in the Library Catalog.  Browse down the results list until you find a record of interest.  Look at the Subject terms.  These are standard terms assigned by the Library of Congress and which specify the topic and scope of the item.  More Subject terms found in your record set are listed under Subject on the right-hand side of the results list.

On your HOLLIS record, note the words following the main Subject term and preceded by hyphens (-).  These are called Subdivisions and indicate the various aspects of a Subject

Virtual homelands : Indian immigrants and online cultures in the United States, by Madhavi Mallapragada. Urbana, IL : University of Illinois Press, 2014, 188 pages

  • East Indians -- United States -- Ethnic identity.
  • Online social networks -- Social aspects.
  • East Indians -- Cultural assimilation -- United States.

Next go to Starts with.../Browse at the top of the page.  Adjust the menu to Subject and enter East Indians -- United States.  This displays the subdivisions attached to your Subject term

  • East Indians -- United States
  • East Indians -- United States -- Attitudes
  • East Indians -- United States -- Biography
  • East Indians -- United States -- Congresses
  • East Indians -- United States -- Directories
  • East Indians -- United States -- Drama
  • East Indians -- United States – Ethnic identity
  • East Indians -- United States -- Exhibitions
  • East Indians -- United States -- Fiction
  • East Indians -- United States -- History
  • East Indians -- United States -- History – Periodicals
  • East Indians -- United States -- Newspapers

These subdivisions not only offer additional terms to search, but also may suggest new aspects of, and approaches to, your topic.

The subdivisions can often be applied to other Subject terms:

Asian Americans – Ethnic identity

Subject Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks are handy for getting a quick general overview of a specific topic. You can try searching in HOLLIS for your Subject plus the words encyclopedias OR dictionaries OR handbooks. 

The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of race, ethnicity, and nationalism, ed. by John Stone, Rutledge M. Dennis, Polly S. Rizova, Anthony D. Smith, and Xiaoshuo Hou. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2016, 5 volumes
HOLLIS Record with online version

A few other examples are given on the Background/Context/Biography page of this guide.

They contain numerous short articles on facets of a large topic.  Typically each article has references and often cross-references to other articles

Also try your topic combined with the Title keyword Companion in HOLLIS Advanced search

"Hip Hop" (Keyword or Subject)
Companion (Title keyword)

To find individual encyclopedia articles in HOLLIS, using HOLLIS Everything Advanced Search, do a Title keyword search on your topic and in the results list look for Resource Type under Refine Your Results in the right-hand column. Choose Reference entries.  Often you find articles on your topic in encyclopedias devoted to a variety of disciplines, thus giving you short overviews from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. For example, such a search for Hip Hop yields articles from:

  • Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
  • Grove Dictionary of American Music
  • Encyclopedia of African American History
  • Oxford Companion to Black British History
  • Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States

Similarly your topic may be covered by several reference books in the Oxford Reference Online Premium Collection.  Search your topic at the upper right, then under Narrow Your Choices: Refine Terms, change All to Entry Title.  To see the reference books included, choose ‘Browse & search books’ in the left hand column.  Under Refine by Subject, the + signs allow another layer of narrowing.

CQ Researcher

CQ Researcher (1923- ) offers reports on subject of current interest prepared by the Congressional Research Service.  In Advanced search you can limit by time period (adjust Date range from Anytime to Between)

Oxford Bibliographies

Oxford Bibliographies Online are literature guides in several humanities and social sciences areas. Oxford Bibliographies by subject

Oxford Very Short Introductions

 A very handy way of getting an overview of a wide variety of subjects is the huge series of Oxford Very Short Introductions.  These are about 100 pages each and are available both online and in paper.  Any we don’t have in paper or which are checked out can be obtained via Borrow Direct.  Here are the records in HOLLIS and here is a breakdown by topic (choices on the left)

Secondary Sources

Databases of secondary source periodical articles usually offer online access to much full text.  This means that you can quickly look over an interesting article, perhaps just reading the abstract (summary), and then go on to something else.