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

Know Your Field, a module from Unabridged On Demand, offers tips, thought prompts, and links to resources for quickly learning about and staying current with an area of scholarly study.

DON'T treat every search box like Google or ChatGPT

Break free of the search habits that Google and generative AI have taught you! Learn to pay attention to how a search system operates and what is in it, and to adjust your search inputs accordingly.

Google and generative AI interfaces train you to type in your question as you would say it to another person. They give you the illusion of a search box that can read your thoughts and that access the entire internet. That's not what's actually happening, of course! Google is giving you the results others have clicked on most while generative AI is giving you the output that is most probable based on your input. Other search systems, like the library catalog, might be matching your search inputs to highly structured, human-curated data. They give the best results when you select specific keywords and make use of the database's specialized search tools. 

Learn more about searching:

  • Database Search Tips from MIT: a great, concise introduction to Booleans, keywords v. subjects, and search fields
  • Improve Your Search, a module from our library research intensive, Unabridged On Demand
Search technique handouts

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

Judicious triangulation is the key to success. No search has everything. There's always one more site you could search. Strike a balance by always searching at least 3-4 ways.


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!