How to Get Started

1. Define your topic

Before jumping too far into fact-finding, think about what your real interest is in your topic. For instance, are you looking at Maine photographers in general or Peter Ralston specifically? Talking to your professor, the writing center tutors or the library's reference personnel can help you narrow down your topic.

Basic reference tools like dictionaries, encyclopedias, subject area guides and directories, handbooks, atlases, and bibliographies, can help you define the parameters of a topic.

2. Find out what has already been written about your topic

Books: Look for books in the Thorndike library by searching the online catalog Thorncat. Books often have wonderful bibliographies which cite primary sources and can lead you in a more direct line to research articles. If we don't have any books on your subject, there are many other libraries that probably do. You can search for books from other Maine libraries using Mainecat or from thousands of academic, public, and special libraries using WorldCat.

Bibliographies: Scan the bibliographies in books that you are using, as well as journals, annual reviews and even web sites.

Periodicals: (also called serials, journals, magazines, newspapers) There are two basic types:

  1. General: More general magazines like Time, Newsweek, E!. These are great for book reviews, contemporary events and research on popular culture,
  2. Subject Specific: Written towards a certain audience. Sometimes are written by generalists, other times by professional researchers.


Researching articles from periodicals can be accomplished several ways:

Marvel!* has a number of college-level periodical keyword-searchable indexes, a list of keywords indicating and cataloging the contents of a written item:

  • Academic Search Premier*
  • Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries*
  • Business Source Premier*
  • ERIC* (education related)
  • GeoRef*
  • Wildlife and Ecology Studies Worldwide*

Thorndike Library's E-journal Locator allows for searching by broad subject area as well as looking up a particular journal by title, focusing results on electronically available material.

3. Consider other Relevant types of material

  • Primary sources — documentation of the primary research conducted on a particular topic
  • Government documents
  • Manuscripts and archives
  • Maps
  • Dissertations
  • Visual materials
  • Music
  • Artifacts
  • Book Reviews
  • Microforms
  • Sound recordings
  • Video/DVD
  • WWW resources

4. Locating the Material

Thorncat is COA's Library Catalogue. You can search for books, videos, music and journal titles. Thorncat will not indicate titles or the contents of a journal or chapters in a book. It will, however, identify journal and book titles.

Thorndike Library's E-journal Locator lists some periodicals that are available free online as well as subscription based journals available to the COA community.

Interlibrary Loan — COA has an active ILL department. Books and copies of specific periodical articles can be borrowed from other libraries. Material can take from 1 day to 3 weeks to reach us. Thorndike Library provides this service for free to enrolled students, faculty and staff. Occasionally there might be a charge for a rare or unique item.

Helpful Web Sites for Conducting Research

  1. Duke University: Guide to Library Research
  2. Online Writing Lab at Purdue: Writing a Research Paper
  3. The Writing Center — University of Wisconsin-Madison: Planning and Writing a Research Paper

* Funding provided by the Maine State Library and University of Maine System