Help a non-academic develop research skills for a wonky in-depth project
December 7, 2010 8:00 AM Subscribe
I'm not an academic, not trained in the art of research, and I could use some guidance. I need advice on how to identify and track down sources for a multi-year exploration of a topic.
posted by croutonsupafreak to education (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I'm embarking on an effort to understand an evolution of one aspect of American culture, from the colonial era to today, and I suspect my research may take me several years.
So far I'm on step one:
1. I've checked out pretty much every book I could find at the local public library that covers these topics. These books are written for a general audience and tend not to approach the topic quite from the angle I'm interested in, but they're a good start.
I suspect that steps two and three should be:
2. Go to the primary source documents cited by the popular books I'm reading.
3. Identify academic scholarship that has touched on the areas I'm interested in, read that, and seek out more primary sources as identified there.
I don't know how to go about either of these steps.
How do I track down primary sources that aren't available through my public library? Will the librarians at a community library be able to help with this? Should I try to affiliate myself with an academic library? (And how can I do this, given that I'm not a student or faculty member?)
And how do I identify academic scholarship that might be of interest to me? I don't want to limit myself to a specific academic sphere - I imagine history, sociology, women's studies, religious studies, business, economics and other fields are likely to have interesting things to say. So how do I figure out who has done research on this stuff before, and where it's been published?
Finally, do I have the right general idea about how to approach this in-depth research project, or am I missing something?
Bonus question: How should I best track my research for when I eventually write up my conclusions and try to get them published? Are there processes and procedures I should follow? Software that's invaluable?