Research plays a critical role in the arts. There is a strong connection between reading, writing, thinking and analysis and the creation of a work of art, whether it is a set design or a symphony. Research is process-driven but the steps are easy to master.
First, understand your topic. Do you need clarification from your instructor? Will a quick check of an encyclopedia suffice? What do you want to discover about your topic?
Next, get organized. Set up a file on your laptop or get an actual file folder for notes, handouts, printouts of articles, etc. How much information do you need? Is your subject too broad? Narrow it by focusing on specifics like a certain time period or facet of the subject instead of the whole field. Too narrow? Do the reverse; look at wider sets of information.
What type of information do you need? Historical, current, in-depth or a quick critique? The answer to these questions determines the sources you consult. How do you plan to discover what you need to know about your topic? Identify possible resources and experiment with search terms and key words as you begin to explore your topic.
Start your research. Locate your sources, read, take notes, and always review your assignment to stay on track. Remember to keep the call numbers of materials you consult or search terms you used in an online search.
Constantly evaluate what you find. Are you staying on track with your assignment? Do you need to back up and regroup or fill in missing pieces of information? Keep researching; too much is better than too little. If you have questions, just ask. We're here to help.
Your information need will determine what type of source you consult for research. Two broad areas of materials are primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are first-hand accounts like diaries or letters composed by someone who actually experienced the event.
Secondary sources are interpretations of those events such as criticisms or newspaper articles which are written by someone else.
Below are two good websites filled with primary sources for historical or period research.
Documenting the American South
Your instructor may require you to use scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Scholarly sources are written by experts in a particular field. They cite their sources through footnotes and bibliographies. Non-scholarly sources are works which are considered popular or more for entertainment than serious research.
Your instructor may require that you not use "popular" or non-scholarly works in your research. Which of these would be considered "popular" and which is "scholarly"?
The Journal of American History