First-Year Writing: Women & Culture

Guide to Finding
the Best Resources

Welcome! This page highlights key resources
for conducting effective library research
in First-Year Writing: Women & Culture, Fall 2017

If you need assistance identifying additional resources,
search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation.

Monica Cohen

Personal Librarian:
Lois Coleman
104 LeFrak, Barnard Hall

Using the library

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Introduction to scholarly research

What is meant by "scholarly?" (video: Epic Library Battles of History: Scholarly vs. Popular)

  • Scholarly journals and books are written for specialized readership, by scholars or experts in a field of study, describing “cutting edge” research,
    • are “peer reviewed” or “refereed” by other experts as a quality control mechanism,
    • have footnotes (or endnotes) and references, (citations written correctly, enabling other scholars to check sources)
    • give the affiliation of the authors (university, research institution),
    • in the sciences and the social sciences each article also has an abstract.
  • Popular magazines are written for a general audience, and do not have the above features.

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Steps in the Research Process

Note: you may have to repeat some of these steps several times!


  • Choosing a text and a topic.
  • Figuring out some good keywords to use in your initial search.
  • Using reference sources to get background information, and look for further concepts, keywords and names to use in your searching.
  • Refine your topic based on your reading, and add to or change your search terms.
  • Search for books in CLIO, skim, read and evaluate; discard books that don't look useful.
  • Search for articles in databases, skim, read and evaluate; discard articles that don't look useful.
  • Document the information and sources you find.

Choosing a topic

  • Choose a text that you like, and try to come up with a topic or question about the text that you genuinely find puzzling or interesting.
  • Write down your topic/question and try to find the main concepts in it that you can use in your first search.

Figuring out what keywords to use

  • Try to distill your topic down to three or four words or phrases that you think will be mentioned in books and articles on the topic.
  • If you only use two keywords, it will often generate too many results that are not relevant enough, while more than four keywords usually seems to be too narrow.

Finding background information

  • Look at reference works like encyclopedias (see the Reference Sources list) to find overviews and background information.  (Scholarly reference works can be cited in your paper.)  Keep a careful note of where you find useful ideas or quotes.  Look for more vocabulary words, concepts and keywords related to the topic, and write them down.
  • You can also do a Google search and read websites to find more concepts and keywords, but this is just for brainstorming purposes. You cannot cite non-scholarly websites like Wikipedia your paper.

Refining your topic

  • After reading through the results of your initial search, refine your topic.  It should not be too broad, nor too narrow.
  • A good rule of thumb is this: if there are entire books written about your topic, it is too broad for a research paper; on the other hand, if your thesis can be fully discussed in a few paragraphs, your topic is too narrow.
  • For example, "The role of women in the plays of Shakespeare" is probably too broad because hundreds of books and articles have been written on this topic; "The symbolism of Ariel's costume in the Tempest" is probably too narrow because you will probably not be able to find enough articles or books discussing this.
  • You'll probably find that you have to refine your topic several times as you go on with your research.

Searching for books using CLIO

Known item searching

  • To find a book, use the Catalog search in CLIO (the Catalog shows you the titles of books and journals in the Columbia libraries, but NOT the articles in journals).
  • To find a chapter in a book, you can do a book title search in the CLIO Catalog, or a chapter title search in Google Scholar.
  • To find an article in a journal, you can do a journal title search in the CLIO Catalog, or an article title search in Google Scholar.

Keyword searching for unknown items - use "All Fields"

Example: "I want to take a Freudian or Jungian psychological approach to look at the meaning of the underworld in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, relating it to the meaning of Hades for Greeks of that time period."

  • use "quotes" for a phrase:
    e.g. "john smith" will find only results with that phrase (not results that have "john green" and "mary smith")
  • use * for truncation (to find variant endings of a word):
    e.g. psycho* finds psychological, psychology, psychoanalytic, etc.
  • for a complex keyword search, use Boolean Keyword searching:
    • AND finds records which have all the search terms you entered;
    • OR finds records which have one of the search terms you entered, as well as records which have more than one of the terms. OR finds MORE. Use parentheses to group terms:
      e.g. (“middle ages” OR medieval)  AND  (religio* OR church*)  AND  (women OR sex*).
  • See more CLIO Catalog Search Tips

Searching for articles

Specialized databases:

Platforms that search multiple databases at the same time:

Federated search engines (will search through everything, or nearly everything, we have at Columbia):

  • CLIO Articles or Summon Find Articles (two different interfaces to the same search): finds journal and newspaper articles, e-books, conference proceedings, etc.
  • Google Scholar: (see Google Scholar Search Tips) searches the full text of articles and books, and retrieves only scholarly material. You can search in the titles only, using the Advanced search.  To enable "eLink @ Columbia" go to Settings - Library links.

Documenting your sources

  • Citation Management: Barnard Library guides to citation styles and avoiding plagiarism.
  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL): guide to MLA style, 8th edition.
  • Zotero: citation management software that allows you to store your references conveniently, and cite them in papers and bibliographies using any citation style you choose.

Additional resources