News & Events
- What is a Good Source?
- Primary and Secondary Resources
- How to Start Looking for Sources
- Keeping Track of Your Searches
- Expanding or Narrowing Your Search
During the course of your research, it is important to consult a variety of sources, including print and digital. On-line resources are quick and convenient in that they can be accessed outside the library, but they do not represent the complete range of information available in any discipline. Many of the rich resources owned by the Library, both primary and secondary, are available in print. A librarian can help you locate appropriate resources for your topic.
Good researchers don't ignore a possible location or lead. Some sources you discover may not be available in Dickinson's collection. When beginning the research process, be sure to build in enough time to order materials through Interlibrary Loan.
A good researcher is defined by the willingness and ability to follow leads and being able to quickly evaluate a source for its reliability and usefulness. Clues to important and reliable information come from many places. Secondary sources are often good places to start the reserach project, as their footnotes and bibliographies can provide you with leads to primary sources and other important secondary works.
A primary source is an account by an eyewitness or the first recorder
of an event - or documents produced at the time an event occurred.
A primary source may be printed or electronic material and can include
diaries, letters, memoirs, personal papers, public documents, field
research reports, minutes of meetings, news footage, newspaper articles,
speeches, oral histories. Primary source material can also include
creative works such as poetry, music, or art, and artifacts such
as pottery, furniture, and buildings. Dickinson College owns primary
material in fields such as Native American and scientific history,
and the history of Dickinson College. The Library also has many
indexes and databases which will help you locate primary material.
A secondary source is a document which is derived from, or based on, study and analysis of primary sources. These are works that are not original manuscripts or contemporary records, but which critique, comment on, or build upon these primary sources. They interpret and analyze primary sources and provide the background necessary to understand the primary sources. A secondary source may be printed or electronic material and can include reviews, criticism, editorials, analyses, encyclopedias, textbooks, histories, and commentaries. Most scholarly journal articles are secondary sources which provide analysis, interpretation, or evaluation.
How to Start
Looking for Sources
Developing a list of keywords for your project is vital for your bibliographic search, for your note taking and for shaping your final paper. A keyword is simply an important word or short phrase relating to your research. Keywords can be a person's name, a book title, a place, an organization or a subject. You can often use keywords to conduct a search of the library's catalog, electronic databases, or printed indexes. As you begin to reseearch your topic, you will discover additional keywords that describe your subject.
A subject heading is a specific word or phrase used to find and organize books and articles by topic. Subject headings are different from keywords in that they are specific terms assigned to a subject by an organization. For example, the Library of Congress supplies subject headings for books owned by Dickinson College (and other libraries), and the company that provides the MLA database supplies subject headings for the articles indexed in that database.
These subject headings, also known as subject descriptors, may not be what you would expect. You might, for instance, go to our catalog and search for autobiographies. The Library of Congress often uses the term "personal narrative' instead of autobiography.
Library of Congress Subject headings can often be found on the page of a book that provides the publisher's information. The subject heading can then be used to search for a book or article when copied exactly as printed. Another way to figure out what the key words or subject descriptors are for your subject would be to enter the title of a book on the subject that is in our library. Then look at the bottom of the record and find the subject descriptors.
In the library catalog and many electronic databases, an items's subject(s) will be hyperlinked, so that you can click on the subject heading to find similar items. You also might want to note the exact words for future use.
This is an example of a book in the library catalog with numerous subject headings:
A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on William Shakespeare's The Merchant
Call Number: PR2825 .R68 2004
E dited by S.P. Cerasano
Publication info: New York : Routledge, 2004.
Physical description: xii, 211 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Series: (Routledge literary sourcebooks)
Bibliography note: Includes bibliographical references (p. -205) and index.
Personal subject: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Merchant of Venice.
Subject: Shylock (Fictitious character)
Subject: Jews in literature.
Subject: Venice (Italy)--In literature.
Personal author: Cerasano, S. P.
As you begin your research project take a moment and think about how to keep careful records of where you have searched (what catalog or database) and with what keywords. The system needs to be flexible and dynamic since your project may change focus and you need to adapt. What you want to avoid is repeating work (since you may not remember doing a search 1 month later) or leaving a hole in your research (e.g., by searching a database or site early on with one idea and then never returning after you have changed directions). You also need good recordkeeping from the start in order to keep track of your citations!
Narrowing Your Search
Words such as AND, OR, and NOT are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow a search in an electronic database. AND will narrow your search; for example, the search "cats AND dogs" returns items that contain both the terms cats and dogs (both terms must appear in the record). OR will broaden your search; for example, the search "cats OR dogs" will return items that contain either the term cat or the term dog - both not necessarily both. NOT will exclude specific items, thereby narrowing your search slightly. For example, the search "Jasper Fforde NOT book review" will exclude any book reviews written by or about Jasper Fforde, but will include any other books or articles written by or about him.