Research Dos & Don'ts

DON'T reinvent the wheel

Many scholars have spent their entire careers in your field, watching its developments in print and in person. Learn from them! The library is full of specialized guides, companions, encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, histories and other "reference" sources that will help orient you to a new area of research. Similarly, every works cited list can be a gold mine of useful readings.


DO get to know your field

ALL ABOUT: Getting to Know Your Field, from Harvard's Unabridged: A Master Class in Library Research, runs through the range of methods scholars use to learn more and stay informed about their field.

DON'T treat every search box like Google

The current fashion in web design is the illusion of a single search box that can read your thoughts. There is no such thing. This makes it all the more important for you to pay attention to how a search system operates and what is in it. Even GoogleScholar and GoogleBooks work differently than the main Google web search, which has problems of its own.


  • Database Search Tips from MIT: a great, concise introduction to Booleans, keywords v. subjects, and search fields

DO adjust your language

Searching often means thinking in someone else's language, whether it's the librarians who created HOLLIS's subject vocabularies, or the scholars whose works you want to find in JSTOR, or the people of another era whose ideas you're trying to find in historical newspapers. The Search Vocabulary page on the general topic guide for literary studies is a great place to start for subject vocabularies.

DON'T search in just one place

There is no place you can search that has everything. There are also an infinite number of places you could search, but don't let that scare you into relying on just one. Judicious triangulation is the key to success.


DO look beyond the library's collections

The library purchases and licenses materials for your use. There's plenty of other material that's freely available or that you would need to travel to see---please let me help you find it!