Find Sources from Sources
Every source contains rich clues to other useful sources. It’s a treasure map that can lead you to sources you would never find by pure searching. This skill can help you discern a conversation occurring among a set of scholars or writers about your topic. Think of each good source as giving clues along two axes:
- Forward and backward in time. If you look at a source and see in its bibliography that there are fifty references, you can do a quick scan of the titles and authors to look for other sources you might investigate. These previously cited sources give you a rough map of how the topic has been researched to that point. Similarly, you can look at the “cited by” feature within a database (or Google Scholar) to look for other sources who are continuing the conversation and cited your source.
- Side to side across the scholarly conversation. When looking at a source you like, collect key terms, phrases, and names to find other sources that are similar. These other keywords can lead to other types of evidence and examples that offer more coverage of your topic.
Use Keywords and Similar Subjects
If you’re reading a scholarly article in a library database, you can make use of both the keywords (selected by the author) and the subject-terms (usually determined by the database).
If you’re reading a book, you have two options. First, using the book’s call number (generally found on the side or spine of the book), find the book in the stacks. Nearby books should be on a similar subject. You can also go back to the book’s record in the library catalog. Each book is assigned at least one library subject. Click the subject to find other books with the same subject.
Read the Bibliography
When you have finished the article, you can give the Works Cited page a once-over in order to identify any interesting readings that look useful.
Check out this tutorial from Hunter College Libraries to learn how to read information in a bibliography or works cited page.
Note: This tutorial uses a guide-on-the-side format to lead you through the references of a sample scholarly article. You may access the tutorial as a single web page, along with the sample article. You may also download an adapted version as a single document.
Search by Author
Academic writers often write on the same topic and publish several books or articles about the topic. Put the author’s name into a database or Google Scholar search and see what else s/he has published about the topic.
One last tip for your research is to keep an open mind. If you are not finding good sources, don’t get discouraged. Try a different combination of keywords, synonyms, or ask your librarian or professor for help. Keep in mind that you don’t need a perfect source that aligns with your paper. You can take small bits of information from multiple sources and combine them into your own argument.