Approaches to Finding Sources
In an effort to make our handouts more accessible, we have begun converting our PDF handouts to web pages.
Download this page as a PDF: Hints for Finding Sources
1. Make an Appointment with a Research Librarian
Make an appointment with a research librarian. From the Vanderbilt library homepage, click on the heading “Get Help With Research.” Then, under the heading “Research Assistance and Guides,” click on the tab “Subject Librarians.” Voila! You have the location, email, and telephone contact information for librarians by subject area.
2. Tap into Dictionaries and Encyclopedias through the Vanderbilt Library
For reference guides like the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Oxford English Dictionary, etc., click on “Articles and Databases” from the library main page, and then go to “Dictionaries/Encyclopedias” under the heading “Looking for Something Else?”
3. Finding Newspaper Articles through the Vanderbilt Library
For newspaper articles, click on “Articles and Databases” from the library main page, and then go to LexisNexis. You will want to select a source, and you may also want your search to cover multiple years. Be sure to navigate the appropriate drop boxes.
4. Finding Journal Articles through the Vanderbilt Library
For journal articles, click on “Articles and Databases” from the library main page, and then select a subject area from the drop-down list (starts with “African-American Studies”).
5. Finding Books in the Vanderbilt Library
For books in the Vanderbilt library, search the library catalog, located in several places on the library main page. Select a search type from the drop-down box to get better results; you may want to try “Subject Keyword” if you’re doing a more general search, or “Title” if you know exactly what you want. (Don’t forget to drop “the,” “an,” and other first-word articles when searching a title – for example, searching for “The Van” does not find Roddy Doyle’s novel The Van, but searching for “Van” does.) We also recommend doing an Advanced search.
6. How Current is the Data? Keep an Eye on Publication Dates
In fields where new data and ideas are constantly emerging, be careful to check the publication dates of your sources. Especially in the sciences and social sciences, research from fifty years ago will be out of date and will inaccurately represent the present state of the field.
7. Critically Evaluate Your Sources and Where You Find Them
As a general rule when doing any kind of research, know that the Internet is full of questionable and sometimes thoroughly unreliable sources. This is not to say that information from electronic sources is not ever valid; plenty of well-respected journals and other resources are available electronically through the library’s website. Just remember: Googling to find leads is one thing; Googling to find material to cite is typically frowned upon.
8. Know the Limits of General Reference Resources
You may want to read around in general encyclopedias to get ideas and acquire a basic familiarity with your topic, but do not depend upon them too much in your final paper. Strong research papers engage with more specialized sources.
9. Get to Know the Vanderbilt Library and Its Amazing Array of Resources and Tools
The library offers so many resources to aid you with gathering information for your research paper. Check out the library’s Research Guides and make time to “Ask a Librarian” and connect with one in person. You will be glad you did!
Last revised: 08/2008 | Adapted for web delivery: 07/2021
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