American history: Searching, citing, and engaging literatures

What's on this page

This page is divided into sections devoted to Bruce Pencek's handouts on planning and doing effective, efficient searching; guidance on citations and ethical use of others' work (including some video tutorials); effective scholarly communication; and sources of help about the VT Libraries and our vendors' platforms.

Lit-search how-to handouts

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. 

Become a situationally aware searcher (HANDOUTS)

Bruce Pencek on search techniques to discover and acquire research sources effectively -- 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. A sequence of tools and techniques for applying what you learn in one stage to clarify your information need and improve your success in  the face of too much information.

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.
  • Bibliographic speed dating. Illustrates use of overlooked search history (aka recent searches) functions in most subject databases to speed you through finding sources relevant to  your  research question.  Being revised to reflect how this technique is no longer available in the latest Discovery Search platform.
  • Search faster using insiders' power words. Quickly find relevant books and some articles using this list of "inside libraries" keywords in VT  Discovery Search, 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 noisy Boolean AND. Includes table of proximity syntax for several database and publisher platforms.

Pencek's handouts are published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.  I make them available in an easily editable format, so you can easily adapt, slice, and dice the files for reuse, provided that you give me appropriate credit, provide a link to the 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 use.

Literature Reviews

Annotated Bibliography Resources

Contribute to scholarly conversations

Virginia Tech's University Libraries supports participation in the scholarly conversation at every stage of the research life cycle, from planning to publishing (including journals and proceedings we host) to curation and archiving ... and even records management services for university units.

Manage your professional identity and impact
Publish strategically

Citation help: acknowledging others' work

Underneath good citations are good practices to manage your notes and evidence (qualitative or 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).

Citing books, articles, and other documents
Citing data
Fair use for instructors

Honor Codes at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech upholds the principles of academic and professional integrity through several honor systems. Expectations, procedures and penalties depend on the affiliation of the student.