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Mellon Mays Guide to Research

Get resources from other libraries

If Brown doesn't have what you need, Interlibrary Loan is always an option.

Books: WorldCat/ Borrow Direct
If the book you need is checked out or not in our catalog, try looking for it in Worldcat, a catalog of libraries worldwide. You can also use WorldCat  to conduct additional subject searches just to see what’s out there. Be sure you're on the Brown network, then click on the Request This Item in the green box. If it’s available, the book will be sent to you. This service for books is called Borrow Direct.

Journal articles: ILLiad
If you found the article in a database, click on the Find It button-- if we don't have it, you'll be directed to an Interlibrary Loan link. If you're not in a database, or don't see the Find It button, open your own ILLiad account and request the article there. Generally, you'll be emailed a PDF of the article, and it can be found in your ILLiad account.

Develop your research question

  • What is it you want to know? Consider the "so what" factor when you are refining your research question. Why is your topic important to the scholarly conversation? What do we know already?
  • What types of materials will you look at to research your topic? Types of materials include (but are not limited to) monographs (books), handbooks, journal articles, newspapers, data sets, conference reports, primary source documents, and special collections materials.
  • How will you go about finding those materials? Coming up with keywords and using search terms will help you fine tune your search so you avoid having too many results, or too few. You can do this in a number of ways:
    • Keywords
    • Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT
    • Put quotes around phrases or words which should show up in results together, such as "labor union". In this case, a search will be done for both labor and union -- in that order.
    • Use parentheses to group similar terms together if you are not sure what term might be used in a search, such as (college OR university). In this case, a search will be done of results that contain either college or university in the results.
    • Use an asterix as a wild card to search for a term that may have many variations, such as graduat*. In this case, all terms that start with graduat will be found, including graduate, graduates, graduating, graduation, etc.

Types of Sources

If you are new to the humanities, you may find it a little odd to conduct research without performing your own experiments or collecting data. Humanities research is all about delving deeply into a topic, finding original sources, evaluating secondary sources, and coming to your own conclusions as a result.

Let’s start with the types of resources you will be using, usually divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

  • Primary sources are original material, created at the time of the event or by the subject you are studying. They may include personal letters, autobiographies, original works of art, newspaper accounts of an event as it happened, field notes, and many other examples. This kind of material is the closest you can get to your actual subject, unfiltered by later scholars and critics.  
  • Secondary sources are works that analyze the primary sources, such as journal articles, monographs about a subject or person, or critical reviews. All of these can also act as primary sources, depending upon your subject. For instance, if your paper is about the history of criticism of an artist, the reviews will then be primary sources. But, if your topic is the artist’s work itself, the reviews will be secondary sources.  
  • Tertiary sources index or otherwise collect primary and secondary sources. Examples are encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries, and online indices. These sources tend to be most useful as jumping off points for your research, leading you to the more in-depth secondary and primary material that you will need to conduct a thorough study.  

Researcher Profiles