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Mellon Mays Guide to Research


Mellon Mays fellows, welcome to your guide to library research and resources.

It's our hope that this guide answers some of the basic questions you might have about using library resources, and is useful throughout your research.

You'll also find a list of subject librarians, specialists in assigned disciplines available to help you with your work at every stage. Please feel free to chat with us online, call, or email.

Best of luck in your research!

Getting help

Ask a Librarian
Chat - Text - Phone - In Person: quick answers to small questions

Research Consultations
One-on-one focused assistance on a research question with a Subject Librarian

Library Subject and Course Guides
Self-service guides to resources in over 80 discipline and area study topics

Workshops and Tutorials
Learn a new skill or master a tool with one of our workshops and tutorials. Check back often-- we're always offering something new!

Obtaining resources from other libraries

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

Books: using WorldCat/ Borrow Direct
If the book you need is checked out or not in our catalogue, try looking for it in Worldcat, a catalogue 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: using 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.

Developing 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.

Evaluating information

There's a lot of information out there. How do you decide whether it's good information? Use the following criteria and see if your information passes muster.

Currency - Is it the most up-to-date information on the topic?

Relevancy - Is the information fully relevant to your topic? Does it cover all aspects, or is it just tangentially related?

Authority - Is the author qualified to be speaking or writing about the topic? Does he/she have degrees related to the topic? If there isn't an author, how do you know that the information is reliable?

Purpose - If the website is selling something, then it has an inherent bias and you should be very skeptical. Even if you agree with their point of view, it's better to find a source that is unbiased and as objective as possible.