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.
- Techniques for finding where a particular publication is cited (reverse footnote-mining) [Harvard Library FAQ]
- Top resources and search tips for locating scholarly companions and guides [general topic guide for literary research]
- The literature section of the Loker Reading Room reference collection [HOLLIS browse]
- James Harner's Literary Research Guide: an Annotated Listing of Reference Sources in English Literary Studies [HOLLIS record with ONLINE ACCESS]
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
- Optimize Your SearchA 3-column review of the basic search-strategy differences between Google and systems like JSTOR or HOLLIS.
- Decoding a databaseA two-page guide to the most effective ways to quickly familiarize yourself with a new system.
- "Search Smarter" BookmarkSimple steps to improve your searching, plus a quick guide to the search commands HOLLIS uses
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.
- Get in the habit of asking me for recommendations
- Develop a small handful of resources you always check, for example:
- A scholarly index such as the MLA International Bibliography, LION (Literature Online), or the IMB (International Medieval Bibliography)
- A full-text collection of scholarship such as JSTOR or ProjectMuse
- One of Google's full-text searches: Google Scholar or Google Books
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!