How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part 3)

The series continues . . .

  1. Develop a list of search terms.
  2. Develop a list of search sources.
  3. Create a working bibliography.
  4. Sort your sources.
  5. “Mine” for Citations.
  6. Create Final Bibliography.

3. Create a working bibliography. With your list of search terms and sources to search, begin to collect a bibliography of books, articles, and perhaps primary sources on your topic. It is usually most convenient to use blank or lined index cards to record each citation you wish to pursue. Adopting a standard format for your citation cards will help you later. Each card should include the following information:

For books:
1. Author(s).
2. Full title.
3. City of publication.
4. Publisher.
5. Year of publication.
6. Chapter or pages of interest (if less than whole book).

For journal articles:
1. Author(s).
2. Full title of article.
3. Journal title.
4. Volume, issue number, and date of publication.
5. Page range of entire article.

Additionally, for both books and articles, you should include a brief annotation on why the item will be a useful and important source. Also, placing some kind of key or index word in either the upper-left or upper-right corners will help you sort your cards later.

Here is an example of a typical book card you might create (though probably hand written):

Here is a sample card for a journal article:

Note that book titles should be underlined (or, in print, italicized) and that articles or book chapters should be enclosed within quotes. The titles of journals should be underlined. The example above indicates that the Rostow article is in volume 54 of the Yale Law Review, issue 3 of that volume, published in June, 1945. Journals are usually issued four times a year. One year’s worth of issues usually makes up a “volume” and are typically bound together. Following the colon in the example is the range of pages for the entire article.

It is absolutely essential that you record all the needed bibliographic information when you make up your cards. You will need most of the information to properly find or order the items, and you will certainly need it when you prepare the citations in your paper and its bibliography. Failure to get the information now will cause you grief and frustration later. How many source citations should you collect for your paper? There are no easy answers to that question, but here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

  • Resist the temptation to simply gather up a pile of the first items you find and go with them. Books and articles are not created equal. Some are useful, some are not so useful. Some are based on fresh research in primary sources and some merely rehash established interpretations. This is why using specialized bibliographies and mining other bibliographies is so important. They represent a selection of materials by experts in their fields.
  • For student papers, it is more important to be comprehensive than to be exhaustive in your research. That is, you should try to cover the various angles of the subject rather than gather up everything you can.
  • Each topic has a natural “shape.” As you discover the shape of your topic, make sure you have sources that deal with its most important parts.
  • The citation examples used above address two important parts of the Japanese relocation experience: racist attitudes regarding Japanese Americans, and legal aspects of the relocation and internment. There are, of course, many other parts: white reactions to the relocation, the actual experience in the camps, loss of property and other goods by those relocated, and the like. These parts of the “shape” of the topic suggest you will need to use at least a few items on each.
  • As you begin collecting citations, you will find authors who have written more than one thing on aspects of your topic. These are obviously important scholars in that field. It is a good idea to know a half dozen or so such names as you proceed with your research.
  • Begin searching for materials of recent scholarship and work back to older materials as needed. This should not be understood, though, as a hard-and-fast rule. But one value to get a hold on newer materials is that they will cite the most important works on that subject that were published earlier. You can mine their citations to help build your bibliography back in time.
  • It is wise to not limit yourself to a narrow interpretive perspective. Make sure that your selected sources contain significantly different points of view regarding your topic.
  • It would be difficult to be comprehensive and to collect sufficient material for a good paper with less than a dozen books or articles. Some papers might require considerably more. You probably would not have to read each one in its entirety, but fewer sources make for thinly supported and weak papers.

The series continues with “How to Find Sources in the Hannon Library (Part 4).”