American history: Searching, citing, and engaging literatures
What's on this page
How-to handouts and video sabout sytematic, effective lit-searching
Think of these as lecture notes for what Bruce Pencek said (tried to say... meant to say... should have said... ) in class or a research consultation.
Be a goal-directed, situationally aware searcher
Bruce Pencek's system of search techniques to discover and acquire relevant research sources efficiently -- so you can manage your time and effort.
I. When to search "the literature"... for the feasibility of the research plan, for primary and secondary sources relevant to the research question, and for making sure you've covered all bases on your answer to your question when you write your paper.
II. Situationally aware (re)searching. We suffer from too much information. So identifying your goal, planning ahead, and then applying what you learn in each stage are vital to research success. This handout offers prompts and a sequence of stages -- and the appropriate tools for each -- to keep your research on target.
III. Operationalize and organize. A one-page grid framework for laying our your search as part of your research design, aligned with social science concerns for identifying concepts/variables, relationships, explanations, and evidence.
IV. Get tactical. Tips to give you better search results in less time.
- What's the use of Discovery Search? Pencek's take on the special uses and disadvantages of VT Libraries' third generation Discovery Search (aka WorldCat Discovery) and similar systems.
- What kind of "article" am I looking at? Some pointers for when you encounter things that look like articles so you can decide if they are appropriate for your project. Compares characteristics, content, and information timelines for sorting out popular, trade, and academic publications. Includes rules of thumb for identifying junk "journals."
- Bibliographic speed dating. Illustrates use of overlooked search history (aka recent searches) functions in many subject databases to speed you through finding sources relevant to your research question.
- Search faster using insiders' power words. Quickly find relevant books and some articles using this list of "inside libraries" keywords in VT Discovery Search [WorldCat Discovery], library catalogs, and even article databases if they use Library of Congress subject headings.
- You can't search NEAR enough: "proximity" searching. Reduce noisy results in full-text databases (and Google) by using the precise NEAR command (and its relatives) instead of the clumsy Boolean AND. Includes table of proximity syntax for several database and publisher platforms.
(Re)search planning. Research, and thus literature searching, is planned, guided by a hunch that your work will test. Here are some considerations about planning your (re)search before you plunge into library tools. Read slide deck.
See also these related handouts:
- When to search "the literature."
- Situationally aware (re)searching: stages.
- Operationalize and organize search terms.
Power searching subject databases. Walk through using subject-oriented databases in the VT Libraries -- the most important tools and efficient tools for finding academic literature. Example illustrates the ProQuest platform specifically (using Worldwide Political Science Abstracts), it but refers when appropriate to similar functions in EbscoHost databases. Read slide deck.
See also these related handouts:
Factiva for global news. Introduction to browsing current news and to searching the large, powerful Factiva database of global news reporting from major newspapers and broadcasters. Read slide deck. (NOTE: Dow Jones, the publisher of Factiva, eliminated its "newstand" menu, making it impossible to browse non-US news sources. This is noted in the slides but not in the video.)
This related handout also applies to searching most historical news archives:
Odyssey, our "learning object repository," offers a growing list of how-to videos and handouts, about the mechanics of using Virginia Tech Libraries' digital and physical resources, including
- Discovery Search
- Finding and checking out printed books in Newman Library
- ILLiad interlibrary loan for getting your hands on books and articles
- Database basics
Orient yourself -- alternative map to VT Libraries website. In case you get lost in the various platforms mashed together in the library's online presence.
Fine print: Pencek's handouts are published in this guide under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license. So you can adapt, slice, and dice the files for reuse, provided that you give me appropriate credit, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests that Bruce Pencek endorses you or your (re)use of his content.
Citation: acknowledging and sharing knowledge
Citing books, articles, and government publications
Citing maps and data
Your responsibility to cite your sources isn't limited to books and articles.
Underneath good citations are good practices to manage your notes and evidence (qualitative and quantitative alike).
Data management plans, long required by most major funders in STEM research grants, are increasingly expected for empirical social science and interdisciplinary humanities funded research as well.
Scholars working in those domains will find are some good tips in Data management plans for historians: How to document and protect your research by Susan L. Collins, a librarian at Carnegie Mellon University. (Perspectives on History, October 2017).