Research Rules to Live By

Research Rules to Live By


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  1. Don't reinvent the wheel: Use others' work to fuel your own research.
  2. Let your feet (and fingers) do the walking: Physical browsing can be as good or better than electronic searching.
  3. Schedule for serendipity: Browsing the library stacks is one of the best ways to discover new resources.
  4. Get to know bibliographic records. They're your friends.
  5. Don't do it alone: Use library services (interlibrary loan, librarians, reference desks, chat, etc.).
  6. Google is good (but only to a point).
  7. Start broadly then limit thoughtfully.
  8. Use Union lists: Learn what's "out there."
    • Article indexes give you a sense of what's "out there" in article form (they index everything in a particular subject, regardless of whether your library owns it or not). WorldCat does the same thing for books. It gives you the big picture.
    • Using WorldCat can help you understand the universe of information (in book form) on your topic. You get a sense of this in articles by searching article indexes/databases. You need to get the same sense for books.  Potentially, these are all available for your research. 
    • Note that the version of WorldCat linked above is different than WorldCat Local, which also displays call numbers, locations and links for items we own. WorldCat Local also includes citations for articles and other materials from a number of sources that are not in the original WorldCat, but the search engine is not as robust. [Differences between WorldCat and WorldCat Local.]
    • Even if you don't end up using interlibrary loan to get any of these materials, you can take note of the authors and search their names in article indexes. They've probably written articles (or other books) in the area.
    • Try our guides to some of these union catalogs to help you get started:
  9. Don't avoid library catalogs.
  10. Don't forget about print resources.
  11. Learning about the history of research in the subject and the relevant scholars is as important as (and is part of) researching the subject.
  12. If you find a promising source, don't give up on it.
  13. Keep a good record of everything you look at (or at least everything you take notes from).
  14. Join academic listservs. They're an invaluable resource (for now and later).

Last modified: July 15, 2014