This page highlights key resources for conducting effective library research in First-Year English:
If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation.
Choosing a topic
- Choose a text that you like, and think of something about the text that you are curious about or a question you have. Choose a theme that you are genuinely interested in - you'll be spending a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing about it!
- Pick out the main keywords that you can use in your research. You might need to think of some synonyms or related terms for these keywords to help you find more useful sources.
Finding background information
- Take a look at scholarly reference tools like encyclopedias to get an overview of a topic, an introduction to a theory, definitions to terms that are new to you, and more. There's a list of Reference Sources for this class to get you started.
- Look out for additional terms, concepts, and names to use in your searches.
- Scholarly reference works can be cited in your paper. They can also lead you to other relevant sources through an entry's bibliography.
- Using Google and Wikipedia can be helpful for brainstorming keywords and concepts, too. Try Google Advanced Search for more options like searching within one website or one domain (like .gov or .edu sites only). In Wikipedia, check the references list in an entry to trace its sources, and see if you can find scholarly, citable information. Be sure to carefully evaluate these sources!
Refining your topic
- Don't be afraid to refine your topic as you go about your research. The books and articles you find and your continual re-reading of the text may spark new ideas.
- Make sure your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow.
- You might find that you have to refine your topic several times as you go on with your research. This is totally normal!
Finding books using CLIO
- CLIO is the online catalog of the Columbia University Libraries, including Barnard Library, but excluding Teachers College and some information from the Law Library. Use the Catalog search to find books, print & online journals (not articles in journals), multimedia sources, and other materials in the Barnard and Columbia libraries.
- If you know exactly what book (journal, video, etc.) you are looking for, you can search by Title, Author, etc.
- To find items about a topic, first try a keyword search in All Fields.
- Use "quotation marks" to search for an exact phrase: "Wuthering Heights".
- Use * for truncation (to find variant spellings and endings of a word): wom*n will find woman, women, womyn; feminis* will find feminism, feminist, feminists, etc.
- For more complex searches, check our Boolean keyword searching guides.
- Use "quotation marks" to search for an exact phrase: "Wuthering Heights".
- WorldCat searches the catalogs of libraries worldwide. If we don't have a book you want, or if it's already checked out to someone else, you can request it via Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan.
Find articles in databases
Search multiple academic areas at the same time:
Find Articles (Summon) searches through hundreds of databases at once, a massive collection of journal and newspaper articles, e-books, and conference proceedings.
Google Scholar searches the full text of articles and books, and retrieves only scholarly material. The advanced search function allows to limit your search to words the titles only. To enable "eLink @ Columbia" go to Settings - Library links. You also can use Google Scholar to find out whether texts were cited by other scholars after it was published.
JSTOR provides access to core journals in many scholarly fields, including History, Literature, Sociology, and Women's Studies, from the earliest issues to within a few years of current publication. Note that JSTOR usually does not contain the most recent issues of a journal, but it's possible that Columbia University Libraries have access via another subscription. Search for the journal title in the catalog for complete access dates.
Project Muse contains full-text articles from scholarly journals in history and the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences.
ProQuest lets you search its many databases at once for magazines, newspapers (including alternative and ethnic presses), dissertations, and scholarly articles in a variety of academic areas.
Search more specialized databases:
America: History and Life in an index to scholarly journal articles and book reviews on the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. Full text is available for many sources.
- Arts & Humanities Citation Index is a multidisciplinary database covering the journal literature of the arts and humanities. It indexes leading arts and humanities journals with selected, relevant items from major science and social science journals. This database links publications based on citations allowing one to search the "web" of communication surrounding a topic.
- ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials is an index to journal articles, book reviews, and collections of essays in all fields of religion, starting in 1949. It also features an online collection of major religion and theology journals. Full text is available for many sources.
- Gender Studies Database features scholarly sources in the studies of women, gender, and sexuality. Source documents include professional journals, conference papers, books, book chapters, government reports, discussion and working papers, theses & dissertations and other sources.
- Historical Abstracts covers the history of the world (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, and history of education.
- Humanities Full Text is an extensive database of articles and citations from scholarly journals in the humanities. It has full-text for articles from 1995 onward, and abstracts and indexes from 1984.
- MLA Bibliography indexes critical materials on literature, languages, linguistics, and folklore. For full-text, follow the "e-link" to see if Columbia University Libraries subscribes to that journal. If the full-text is not available, you can order the article via interlibrary loan.
- If we don't have access to an article you want, you can request it via Interlibrary Loan.
Citing your sources
- Citation management software allows you to store your references conveniently, and cite them in papers and bibliographies using any citation style you choose. For help, see the Barnard Library Zotero guide.
- Research and Documentation Online covers citation formats in the APA, Chicago, MLA, and CBE styles, along with tips for research in subjects within the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. It also includes a glossary of research terms, a list of additional style manuals organized by subject, and tips for evaluating sources.
The Online Writing Lab (OWL) from Purdue University provides detailed citation and formatting standards for the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles, as well as subject-specific writing tips and techniques.
More Good Stuff
- The Craft of Research is a useful online book that can help guide you through the full research process.
- Test your skills with the handout for your library instruction session.
- Learn how to evaluate web resources with this guide from Columbia University.
- Run across an unfamiliar library term? Figure out what we're talking about with our glossary of library-related terminology.
- Check out the English & American Literature research guide from Columbia University Libraries.
- Consult the English Department Guide on Reinventing Literary History.
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Last updated March 22, 2016