This research guide is designed for students in LANGUAGE, IDENTITY AND POWER, a Fall 2020 Expos course taught by Jessie Schwab.
The resources and strategies described on this page are specifically targeted: they represent our first best guesses at where you might find the information you'll need for Essay 2 and your capstone project.
Remember that good research is often about following up on hunches, testing out a hypothesis and then seeing where else (or to what else) it leads. If you hit a dead-end, that's normal: problem-solving is part of the process.
Language -- the very thing you're studying in this course -- is always critical: searching depends on words. So use language creatively and flexibly. You may even need to try several search combinations before you strike gold. That's normal, too.
Let me know how I can help as your work on Essay 2 gets underway. We can triage by email or have a longer conversation on Zoom.
Enjoy your research adventure!
Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs, Lamont Library
Although it's not a Harvard Library "database," Google Scholar is perfectly acceptable for most general forays into scholarship; its algorithms are excellent and do return relevant results.
One of the best ways to generate research leads with Scholar is to use it to follow citation trails when you have a known source -- a class reading, a book you've found on HOLLIS that looks promising, an article that's so "perfect" for a research project that you want to see if there's "more like it" out there, waiting to be discovered.
One simple change to the settings in Google Scholar will turn it into what's effectively a Harvard database -- with links to the full-text of journalarticles that GS wants you to pay for. We give them to you free of charge. Here's how to optimize Google Scholar for Harvard access:
Look to the left of the GS screen and click on the "hamburger" (); then click on . Look for "Library Links." Then type Harvard into the search box and save your choice. As long as you allow cookies, the settings will keep.
Journal articles are the academic’s stock in trade, the basic means of communicating research findings to an audience of one’s peers.
In some fields, especially the sciences, where information accrues rapidly and must be disseminated quickly, journal articles are actually the researcher’s preferred means of communication.
In disciplines like the humanities, where knowledge develops more gradually and is driven less by issues of time-sensitivity, journal articles may simply offer the more appropriate vehicle.
Not all important and influential ideas warrant book-length studies, and some inquiry is better suited to the size and scope and concentrated discussion that articles afford.
Regardless of the discipline, however, journal articles perform an important knowledge-updating function.
Their quality and authority are established by other scholars, prior to publication, through a rigorous evaluation method called peer-review.
Searching the journal literature is part of being a responsible researcher.
It’s the way you tap into the ongoing scholarly conversation. And it's the way you can be sure that the data you have or the scholarly conversation you’re following is in its most current form.
A database is, essentially, a collection of information that's been brought together, codified in some way, and made searchable.
The key point to remember about any library database -- and Harvard has hundreds, including HOLLIS -- is that it's constructed intentionally. Some things are included and some are not (you're never searching "everything") but there's always some principle of similarity among the information a database contains.
Sometimes, that similarity will be a format --a database can be made up of all news articles, for example, or pubic opinion polls, or visual images. Sometimes the unifying feature is language, or geography (e.g. a database on Latin America), a particular time period (a database covering the Middle Ages or the 19th century, for example), or some combination of these things.
Research projects here at Harvard will often require you to look close up at a body of inquiry produced by scholars in a particular academic field. We call these subject databases.
Every academic discipline -- from Anthropology to Zoology and everything in between -- has at least one subject database that's considered the disciplinary gold standard -- a reliable, (relatively) comprehensive, and accurate record of the books that scholars are publishing, and the ideas they're debating and discussing in important and influential journals.
Subject databases function like lenses: they can change what you see in research and how you see it -- and they offer you easy and efficient ways to bring your questions into sharper focus.
They can be radically different in what they cover and in how they look, but research databases do follow certain conventions. Among them:
TWO TYPES OF SEARCH SCREENS: basic and expanded
While “basic” screens are straightforward invitations to string words together and see where a search goes, the “advanced search” screens of databases are typically more powerful. They offer a host of other ways to manipulate language and more precisely and deliberately control and shape a search before you run it.
And incidentally, Google, Google Scholar (and HOLLIS) offer advanced search options, too.
TWO TYPES OF SEARCH LANGUAGE: keywords and subjects
Keywords are the terms you think up to describe your topic or information need.
Subject terms come from a standardized vocabulary list and are chosen by catalogers to describe intellectual content of an item in precise and common ways.
They add value to a search by helping you find additional items that are related in emphasis, cover similar content, or have the same purpose.
Subject terms are what ensure that you get to all the relevant information on a given topic, regardless of the keywords with which you start.
OPTIONS TO FILTER, MODIFY, AND RE-SORT RESULTS
Most databases will present you with ways you can drill down into your initial search results to get better or just more targeted information to surface closer to the top. Limiting to English (or other languages), by publication (title or type), or to a range of years are commonly offered options for customizing a search.
Some databases (like Academic Search Premier and HOLLIS) will follow the Google model and rank results by relevance; others use reverse chronological order (date descending) as the default.
Re-sorting may help you gain perspective and clarity, especially when you are in the topic-defining stage or when you’re dealing with a large search results set.
Many databases now allow you to sample article content or view some of its parts: an opening page or two, its bibliography, images and graphs that accompany the written text, a list of works that have cited it since its publication.
These features can help you evaluate the potential utility of a source for your particular research problem – and sometimes, they’ll lead you to interesting research places you might not otherwise have found. For a sample of how these features might appear in a database, click here.
LINKS TO INFORMATION ABOUT ARTICLE AVAILABILITY
Many journal databases now include at least some articles in full-text. When you’re working in a resource that doesn’t, however, you’ll almost always see a button next to each search result that looks like this:
is software which will identify options in other Harvard databases for retrieving the article in full-text. If full-text isn't available, the software will let you link right into HOLLIS to find out which Harvard libraries might have a print copy you can use.
This database can be an excellent stepping stone to research -- either before or after you've sampled what's available in HOLLIS.
Like HOLLIS, Academic Search Premier is also multidisciplinary in its coverage and it also provides you with a range of article types (some scholarly, some not).
But while still broad, it's a smaller universe than HOLLIS. Depending on your topic, in fact, searching in ASP may even be a more efficient route to quality information, simply because it will deliver a more manageable result set.
USING HOLLIS WELL: THREE CONSIDERATIONS
1. Understand what it is.
HOLLIS combines the extensive contents of our library catalog, the record every item owned by every Harvard Library with those of another, large and multidisciplinary database of journal, newspaper, and magazine articles.
When you search "everything" searching both of these databases together, at once. For better or for worse, "everything" is our system default.
2. Know how to work it.
Creating search strings with some of the techniques below can help you get better results up front.
3. Take control of your results.
While the broad and panoramic approach to searching HOLLIS can be mind-opening, you can sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by either the numbers or types of results your search returns.
When that happens, try one of these easy tricks:
Limit your Everything search results set just to the items listed in the LIBRARY CATALOG.
Your numbers will immediately get smaller. Keep in mind, though, that the results will be heavily weighted toward book-length studies.
Limit your Everything search results set to items that are identified as PEER REVIEWED ARTICLES.
You'll eliminate newspaper and magazine materials as well as books, of course, but you'll also raise the visibility of scholarly journal articles in what displays.
Think about limiting your results to publications from the last 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.
By doing so you'll get a snapshot of the most recent research trends and scholarly approaches in a field (or around a particular issue).
Experiment with limiting your searches to materials available
You'll reduce your numbers of books by a wide margin, not often a good strategy, but an expedient one in exigent circumstances. Learn more about strategies under the Pandemic Considerations tab.
RESOURCES IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS
Despite the fact that our physical items are unavailable and buildings are shuttered, HOLLIS can and should continue to be a key research resource, wherever students are. That's in part because of the sheer size and enormous variety of what it contains, but also because the content students can surface there is substantial.
Here are some ways to think through your digital options in HOLLIS.
This service, free to Harvard students even before the pandemic can be a lifesaver when you find something in the catalog that's essential -- but only available in print.
Scan & Deliver allows you to request a PDF of an article, a portion of a book (and now, a portion of a special collection, under some circumstances). Just remember that the library staff responsible for this service are returning to campus slowly, so the response time (usually within 4 days) may be delayed.
If HathiTrust has a digitized copy, you'll be able to check it out, reserves-style. Presently, loans are given for 1 hour, automatically renewable if there's no waiting list. The key here is to be sure you click on the button, top right and choose Harvard University
3. Borrow Direct
For books not available online via a HOLLIS link or through HathiTrust, the Open Library may be a good next step. You'll need to create a free account to "check out" books (temporarily, for up to 2 weeks).