Research Guides
Research Basics

Research Basics

The Research Basics guide is designed to introduce you to the resources and services available in the library and how to use them in your research. Use the tabs on the left (menu links on mobile) to view specific guides on different types of materials.

Overview of the research process

Research plays a critical role in the arts.  There is a strong connection between the reading, writing, thinking and analysis inherent in every art form whether it is a set design, a role in a play or a symphony.  Research is process-driven but the steps are easy to master. 

  1. First, understand your topic.  Do you need clarification from your instructor? Will a quick check of an online encyclopedia suffice?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  Each of the sections of this guide goes into more detail on various source types and how they are used in research.
  4. 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.  If you have questions, just ask. We're here to help.  


An integral part of research is learning to evaluate materials and the information contained within them.  The following terms and concepts are useful in evaluating both print and online materials. Two broad areas to understand are whether a resource is a primary or secondary source and whether it is considered scholarly or non-scholarly.

Primary sources are first-hand accounts like diaries or letters composed by someone who actually experienced the event. 

Below are two good websites filled with primary sources.    

Documenting the American South

The American Memory Project

Secondary sources are interpretations of those events such as criticisms or newspaper articles which are written by someone else. 


Scholarly sources are peer-reviewed or written by experts in a particular field.  They cite their sources through footnotes and bibliographies. 

Example: The Journal of American History

Non-scholarly sources are works which are considered popular or more for entertainment than serious research.

Example: People Magazine

Your instructor may require that you not use "popular" or non-scholarly works in your research.


Books are useful for broad, in-depth analysis of a subject but are usually not as current as periodicals or newspapers.  They often have bibliographies which will lead to other sources for research.

Searching for books

Locate books in the UNCSA library by using our online catalog.  The catalog can be searched by title, subject, keyword (another type of subject search), or author (last name first). 

Here is an example of a catalog record:

Note the links to the subject headings.  Follow these to find more items on the same subject.

Make a note of the entire call number, even if it's long and involved.


Locating books

Be sure to note the call number, location and availability of the book. 

Reference books, like encyclopedias and criticisms, are located on the second floor.

The circulating collection is housed on the third floor.

View a complete list of library material locations


Here's a quick primer on using the call number to locate the book.

For a book with the call number PS3537 T3234 G8 1986b


The first set of numbers and letters are read alphabetically then numerically:

  • you’ll look for PS after PR
  • then 3537 in numerical order within the PSs

The next set of letters is again alphabetical but the numbers are in decimal order:

  • look for the Ts
  • then 3234 will come after 31 but before 33.



Browsing by subject

Materials in the library are arranged by subject so when you find a call number range for your subject, for instance, GV1585 for dance, browse that call number area for more books on your subject.

Articles in Databases

Databases are searchable online collections of materials such as journal articles, images, sound recordings and even entire books. Searching a database differs from searching Google in that a database is compiled by scholars in a particular field. The materials are peer-reviewed by experts, so search results are already evaluated and appropriate for research purposes. By contrast, the internet contains a wealth of information but search results must be carefully evaluated for accuracy and usefulness.  Review the guide for Evaluating Print and Online Sources for more information on internet research.

The databases available to UNCSA students and faculty are accessible through the library website.

Searching across databases

  1. From the library website, click on the Articles tab in the search area and type in your search term.
  2. A list of results will appear from different databases and the online catalog if desired. 

Searching specific databases

  1. Visit the page listing all library databases (or from the home page, select the databases tab in the search box)
  2. Select the database title you wish to search


Off-campus users will be prompted to authenticate using their email username and EZArts number prior to accessing licensed materials.  For more information, see our page on Off-Campus Access



Now, let's practice.  Here's an example of a search on Picasso and cubism.


Note that the search retrieved books from the online catalog, full-text articles from academic journals and even a newspaper article.  The choices in the left hand column allow you to choose whether you want just journals or books or newspapers, a time frame for your search and other options.  The file folder icon to the right of each citation allows you to add that record to a file folder which you can set up for that search.  Be sure to note the citation information necessary for your works cited.

Journals and Newspapers

Newspaper and journal articles are useful for more current treatment of a subject because they come out monthly, weekly or even daily. They sometimes lack the in-depth discussion of a subject found in a book but they provide a useful snapshot in time by recounting current thoughts on a particular event or person.  The images and ads in print journals and newspapers are excellent resources for design research.

You can find a specific article on a particular subject by using an index. The index will list citations which contain information such as the title of the article, the name of the journal, page numbers and publication dates. Write down the complete citation since it is necessary for finding the article as well as for your works-cited. Here's how to read a citation:

Subject Heading (from Reader's Guide): Ocean travel

Newspaper citations will include the same types of information.

Print indexes like the three listed below are shelved in the Reference collection on the second floor of the library. 

  • The Art Index  - Ref. N1 A7754
  • Film Literature Index  - Ref. PN1993 F57
  • Readers Guide to Periodical Literature  - Ref. AI3 R48

The library does not subscribe to all the journals in any index so check the online catalog to see if the library has the journal you need. Current periodicals are shelved in alphabetical order in the periodicals reading area on the first floor and back issues are bound and shelved in call number order on the second floor. The online catalog will provide the call number for the journal as well as a listing of the volumes of the journal in the library. Here's an example of a catalog record for a journal.

Be sure to note whether the library has the year or volume of the journal you need.

Evaluating Print and Online Sources

An important part of library research is learning to properly evaluate sources. Much of the same criteria can be used to judge both print and online formats.  The following questions can assist you in determining whether or not material is appropriate for research purposes.  The internet is a vast world of information but not all of it is useful or even true. Unlike books, there is no one central publisher or editor who is checking for errors or misinformation before publication. You should get in the habit of evaluating any websites that you are using for research or even for your own personal information.

  • Who is the author and what are their credentials?

What is their educational background?  Have they written other books or articles on a similar topic?  Are these materials in their field of expertise?  Check for information on the author in the book or the website itself if you’re looking online.  The author of a website may not be easily determined but the domain name, .edu or .gov will give you a clue as to the authenticity of the information.

  • How accurate is the information?

Does it agree with accepted sources in that field? Do they cite scholarly sources or use citations at all?  The encyclopedia is always a quick way to check information you find on a website.  Look in the library catalog for other print sources on the subject. 

  • What is the publication date of the book or when using a website, when was the site last updated? 

If your topic needs current information, then the publication dates become important in obtaining the most up to date material.

  • Is the book or website trying to sell something? 

Is it biased toward one viewpoint?  Who is the intended audience?  It may be necessary to check other sources for a balanced treatment of your subject.

  • Can you find reviews of the book or article?

A quick check of a newspaper or journal index or database may help you locate criticisms of a particular work or author. 

Citing Sources

When you use someone else’s ideas or quotes in your own research, you must give the author credit through a footnote or an entry on your “works cited” page.  These entries follow a specific format which should be verified with your instructor. The MLA Format is one of the most widely-used and may be accessed here (courtesy of the Online Writing Lab or OWL at Purdue University).

Proper citing of sources lends credibility to your work, allows your reader to locate the same source you used (as you do when using the bibliography in a book to find further information) and prevents plagiarism. Plagiarism is the use of another’s words or ideas as your own but without giving them proper credit. You must always provide documentation for any material that a reader might assume is your own creation. If you have any doubts, cite it.

The library has style manuals that provide the correct format for a citation in a footnote or bibliography. Two of the most widely used printed sources are listed below. Both provide standards for citing sources that will include the information a reader will need to locate the source you used and to give the author credit for the use of his work in your research.

Chicago Manual of Style | Ref.Z253 U69 2010 

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers | Ref. LB2369 G53 2009