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Guide to Academic Writing...
Where to look
There are lots of places to find information you can use in a paper. Everyone's instinct is to google the question and use one of the first three websites in the search results. It's easy and fast, so I understand. But finding a quality source can help you write a quality paper! Here are my top 5 suggestions:
- Databases: Databases are collections of articles, videos, and more that are organized and searchable so you can find information relevant to your study. Many databases have editors or boards that control what is published and may even help to edit content before it can be published on their site. Not all databases are the same... Wikipedia is technically a databases but they don't control who creates or edits the content that is published and have very little control over the citations. For this reason, you can use Wikipedia as a starting point to learn more generally about a subject, develop keywords, and even use the bibliography to find more reputable sources, but it should NOT be your last stop.
- Books, eBooks, and Scores: Reading can sometimes be tedious, but there is no substitute for it in research. Books and eBooks go through a rigorous process to get published with a reputable publisher and contain a wealth of information from experts. Researchers will spend years researching a topic before they write some of these books. Plus, their editors make sure it is accurate information found through reputable research methods. Published scores from the music publisher for the artist can also be a really good way of making sure the music you are analyzing is accurate. Analyzing a score can support your arguments and strengthen your analysis.
- Newspapers and Magazines: What did people think of these songs or artists? What were their performances like? What was documented at the time about these events? These are questions that newspapers and magazines can answer. The Library has a collection of music magazines going back to the 1970s which we can help you look through to find something relevant. Muzines also has a small collection of digitized music magazines that are searchable. Newspapers.com has historical newspapers that you can search via keyword.
- Documentaries or Interviews: What better way to know what artists think than by watching or listening to an interview with them. Some interviews can be found on youtube and documentaries can be found on most streaming platforms. Come talk to the Librarian if you're having trouble finding what you're looking for!
- Archival Materials: Archives can sound intimidating for those who have never used them before, but they have a wealth of resources that are free to use and access. Some organizations may keep information within the company, but others, like the National Archives, LA Public Library Archives, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and others, want the public to use their resources. Information about their collections can be found on their websites.
If you don't know where to start, our Librarian is always willing to sit down with you and help you find sources to get you started on your research. You can stop by her office without an appointment or you can contact her via the information on the home page.
How to Look
There are several different ways to search. The most common are 1) keyword searches and 2) Boolean searches.
- Keywords are specific words selected to target search results. You naturally do keyword searches when you Google.
- I recommend making keywords before you open a browser or database. I would open a document and write out all the words or topics related to yours. You may even want to use a mind map (pictured below) to visualize how topics are related.
- For example, if your topic was the influences of funk, your mind map might look something like this:
- Notice that keywords can include artists, songs, genres, locations, time periods, and general terms. This is just the start! Some topics could have dozens if not hundreds of keywords!
- Once you have keywords, you can combine them to find specific resources. For example, if I combined "James Brown" with "Protest Music," I would probably get information about his song "Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" as well as interviews with him about the Civil Rights Movement and what his stances were.
- There are several ways you can combine keywords so that the database or search engine pulls up specific results. Using Boolean Operators helps define the search for the database. The main Boolean Operators are AND, OR, NOT or -, "" and ().
- AND - Combines the two words on either side of the AND so that both words must appear in each result.
- OR - Tells the search engine to pull results that contain one or both of the terms on either side of the OR.
- NOT or - :Tells the search engine that the first word must appear in the search but that the any results containing the second word should be omitted. The - sign is used mainly on Google.
- "" : When surrounding a phrase, tells the search engine that all the words in the quotation marks must be included in that exact order.
- () : Parentheses combine several words so that they can be used in combination with other operators, like a math equation.
- To learn more about Boolean operators, watch this video.
How to Identify a Trustworthy Source
There is a lot of information out there, especially on the Internet, where anyone can publish anything. How can you tell what information is true? You can sometimes tell that information is true or trustworthy based on where it is published and by whom. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the website or article have an author?
- If there is no author, you have no way of knowing what the agenda of the author may be or whether they are qualified to write scholarly information about a topic.
- Does the author have credentials or experience that suggests an understanding of the topic?
- Anyone can write about anything. But, if you want information that has been well-researched, and provides accepted, true information, it's best to find someone who is qualified to speak about such topics.
- If you are reading an article or book about succeeding in the music business, wouldn't you rather hear it from someone who has succeeded or helped others to succeed as opposed to someone who just enjoys music speaking about what they think might make someone successful?
- Is the website sponsored (i.e. does it have advertisers or someone who funds them other than subscribers)?
- When someone has financial control over a publishing entity like a website, publishing house, or newspaper, they have control over who is hired and what content is approved for publication. This includes advertisers, to some extent. Sources that have advertisers or clear sponsors are more likely to be biased and unwilling to tell the whole story.
- Some sites may be "affiliates," meaning that the advertisements are chosen by the content creators or may be randomly selected. These sites can be used, but be cautious and analytical about what is being said.
- Is there a clear political bias or does the author present multiple sides of an issue?
- Some sites or newspapers are proponents of specific political parties and are more likely to present information that is favorable to their political views. While they may still present facts correctly, they may omit facts or phrase things in a way that is biased towards specific people over others.
- You can use sites and extensions like the Media Bias Fact Check site to look at the political affiliations of websites and newspapers and to identify which sites have failed fact checks historically. (Notice that this site uses ads. They explain how this does not affect their mission on their transparency tab under funding.)
- Is it peer-reviewed?
- A peer-reviewed article is one that has been carefully scrutinized by other experts in the same field as the author and confirmed the research methods as being truthful, accurate, and reliable. You won't have to do as much work analyzing the trustworthiness of these articles because scholars and experts have already done that work for you!
- You can find peer-reviewed articles in some of our selected databases on the left, especially JSTOR.
See the tab on Resources for More Information for books, eBooks, sample papers, and more for additional guidance.