When beginning researchers come to the circulation desk, they often ask for something like this: “I’m doing a research paper on how school uniforms will improve test performance in Davidson County students. So I need a book on that.”
Of course, that’s not how research works. And by the time that students get to graduate school, they realize that a definitive books actually spells doom for the process since the whole point of academic research is to come up with a new vantage point on a topic. If you are doing research, the implication is that there is some argument about the topic or why bother?
Of course, beginning researchers will answer, rightfully so, we’re bothering because our instructors are making us. And I’m sympathetic, but that’s still not going to make sources appear like magic. So here are some tips for when sources seem to be hiding:
- Broaden out your search. Maybe there aren’t any sources that pull up when you do a search on “Truman Capote” AND “Southern decay.” But there might be sources on Capote and the South or Capote and decay. And that might provide the evidence you need.
- Look “slantwise.” In our Capote example, find an article that takes on typical themes of Southern writers and then show how Capote fits in with or differs from those writers.
- Go negative. Now I’m not suggesting that you start talking smack about your topic. But sometimes you can prove your point by citing research that’s on the opposite side of your argument and showing why that’s wrong. So with our Capote example, let’s say you find a source that states that he should not be considered a Southern writer. Take that as your starting point and then use examples from Capote’s writings to prove your argument.
The Jolly Librarian’s final tip: Research involves some reading. Looking at a summary can give you much-needed help, but as you mature as a researcher, you’ll be surprised at the good information that appears in the middle of an article. Last night when we were helping a student with research on Truman Capote (yes, the example came from real-world experience), I found an article that had only one reference to Capote in its 20 pages, but skimming over it, I found an excellent section on Southern writers and decay, which turned out to be very helpful for the student.
Okay, one more final (final) tip. If you have trouble, just come see us in the library. We like nothing better than helping find information.