After you have a research question, you can begin finding sources to write your paper. You might already have sources from class—if you do, this is a great place to start. You might also have sources from the preliminary research you performed when developing your research question. It is often helpful to explore texts that cite and have been cited by the sources you previously gathered. Additionally, you have access to many books, journals, magazines, newspapers, maps, and other physical and electronic resources through IU Libraries. In this section, we will discuss how to find sources, both physically at IU and online, and evaluate these sources in terms of trustworthiness and relevance to your project.
Remember that searching, like research, can be iterative and exploratory, even when you are seeking sources for a particular assignment or paper. Give yourself time to explore and let your curiosity guide you while also considering our suggestions to help you along the way.
While we reference many helpful resources here, if you are looking for resources more specific to Media Studies, check out our Recommended Resources for Media Studies guide for the most current overview of relevant resources in this subject area.
There are multiple search options on the IU Libraries website. Let's start by exploring the homepage:
The IU Libraries website can direct you to books and articles articles on IUCAT, OneSearch@IU, EBSCO, Google Scholar, and more. See the next section for help determining which of these resources is right for you.
Photo: Herman B Wells Library. IU Libraries Website. The Wells Library is home to the Black Film Center & Archives, University Archives, Moving Image Archive, and more.
You can browse many of the collections held by IU's libraries. Exploring collections in-person is a great way to find books on your topic (which are often shelved near each other), preview materials, and discover titles you may have missed while searching online. Additionally, IU is home to many world-famous archives and book repositories. Reach out to the librarians and archivists at specific repositories to get assistance with your research and/or set up a visit. Below you will find information about physical collections and archives at Indiana University, Bloomington:
|Repository||Who are they and what do they have?||How to access materials|
|Established in 1991, the AAAMC is a repository of materials covering a range of African American musical idioms and cultural expressions from the post-World War II era. The collections highlight popular, religious, and classical music, with genres ranging from blues and gospel to R&B and contemporary hip hop. The AAAMC also houses extensive materials related to the documentation of Black radio.|
|The ATM is an audiovisual archive that documents music and culture from all over the world. With over 110,000 recordings, it is one of the largest university-based ethnographic sound archives in the United States. The core of the collection consists of more than 3,000 field collections–unique and irreplaceable recordings collected by anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and others. Some of the holdings' strengths include Native American, African, and Latin American music and spoken word, and large collections of early jazz and blues 78s.|
|The BFCA is the only center in the world dedicated entirely to the collection, preservation, curation, and programming of Black film. Since its founding in 1981, the BFCA has been proud to highlight and celebrate the contributions to film art and history made by people of African diasporic descent, as well as document the shifting ways that race and racism have been presented onscreen.|
|The Collections website brings together a compilation of Indiana University’s most valuable resources across all campuses. Peruse the website to obtain greater visibility into the rich history of our human cultural and scientific achievements.|
|Herman B Wells Library||Wells Library is the visual center of the multi-library system and primarily supports the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. More than 4.6 million volumes are housed in the building. Especially noteworthy are collections supporting international and area studies, including ones developed in African Studies, Russian and East European Studies, Uralic and Altaic Studies, East Asian Studies, and West European Studies along with the extensive Folklore Collection. To find a book at Wells, locate its call number in IUCAT or talk to a Reference Librarian in the East Tower for assistance.|
|The Indiana University Archives holds records related to students, faculty, alumni, and general culture or information about Indiana University. With an estimated 18,000 cubic feet of records and papers in all formats, the University Archives is the largest and most comprehensive source of information on the history and culture of Indiana University. Browse the collections online, or contact an archivist to find records related to your research or interests.|
|The IULMIA is one of the world’s largest educational film and video collections. Containing more than 130,000 items spanning nearly 80 years of film production, the Archive also includes many rare and last-remaining copies of influential 20th-century films. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment.|
|Kinsey Institute Library & Special Collections||Maintains a research collection of unrivaled scope with manuscripts, data, materials, and papers from some of the world’s most influential sex researchers. The archives include the papers of Masters & Johnson, John Money, Harry Benjamin, and Thomas N. Painter, as well as the institutional records of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, the Albert Ellis archives, and the EROS magazine collection.||
Email email@example.com for assistance
|Latin American Music Center & Archives||The Latin American Music Center collection is comprised of thousands of items and includes rare manuscripts, published scores, colonial music anthologies, sound recordings, books, dissertations, periodicals, microfilms, and miscellaneous documents such as letters and photographs.|
|Lilly Library||The Lilly Library is IU's principal rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library. Visit the library anytime to view special exhibitions and items on permanent display such as the New Testament of the Gutenberg Bible and the Slocum Puzzle Collection. Admission is always free and the library is open to everyone.|
|Cook Music Library supports musical performance, teaching, learning, and research at Indiana University, primarily in the Jacobs School of Music. The strengths of the collection include: 19th-century first or early editions of orchestral, chamber, and opera sources; extensive holdings of printed operas; theory treatises from the Renaissance to the late 19th century; Russian/Soviet music; early keyboard and violin primary source materials; Black and Latin American music collections.|
Many of IU's archival holdings are searchable through Archives Online. Collections include records from Indiana University repositories. You can search across all collections or search within an individual collection. Once you select a collection to view, click "Entire Document" on the left of the screen to view the entire inventory of the collection.
A "Finding Aid" assists you in locating something in a collection. The "Title" of the collection and the "Collection No."are listed in the first portion of the finding aid. The "Collection No." is the identification marker that allows you to request a collection, along with the specific box numbers. Make sure to use finding aids to help you locate which boxes have materials of interest, often you are not able to request access to an entire collection.
For assistance using Archives Online, check out these videos:
Sometimes, scholarship does not go on to become a scholarly text in the form of an article or book. Consider consulting alternative academic sources, such as conference proceedings, seminars, abstracts, and theses and dissertations, which will allow you to find not only relevant scholarly work within the field, but in many cases will be more current than traditionally published sources. Keep in mind that these sources often do not undergo the same level of review as peer-reviewed work.
Explore the Grey Literature section of IU's Systematic Reviews & Evidence Based Reviews Guide to learn more about these sources.
Conference proceedings are compilations of papers, research, and information presented at conferences. Proceedings are sometimes peer-reviewed and are often the first publication of research that later appears in a scholarly publication. Proceedings are more commonly encountered (via databases and other searching) in science and engineering fields than in the arts and humanities.
The Government Printing Office disseminates information issued by all three branches of the government to federal depository libraries (including IU Libraries). Additionally, government departments publish reports, data, statistics, white papers, consumer information, transcripts of hearings, and more. Some information published by government offices is technical and scientific.
Theses and dissertations are the result of an individual student's research while in a graduate program. They are written under the guidance and review of an academic committee but are not considered "peer-reviewed" publications.
You won't always want, need, or be required to exclusively rely on academic sources in your research. In these cases, it is important to understand their provenance and scope and carefully evaluate them before usage. For more on source evaluation, use the navigation menu to the left.
Below you'll find a table summarizing some of the different online resources that you can use to find sources. This is a general overview of what you have at your disposal as an IU student.
|Method||What is it and what does it contain?||Why should I use it?|
|IUCAT||A catalog of books, journals, maps, etc. already at IU (both physical copies and e-resources). IUCAT does not search for specific articles within journals, only for the titles of journals themselves.||Covers most topics, materials are often immediately available. Provides call numbers for locating books/journals.|
|OneSearch@IU||A search engine that searches IUCAT, scholarly article databases, and news/popular publications. Primarily searches for articles.||Searches many articles. Can narrow results for peer-reviewed articles only.|
|Worldcat||A catalog of books, journals, maps, etc. that may or may not be at IU.||Covers all topics, can find material regardless whether IU happens to own it.|
|Interlibrary Loan||A free service to order materials that are unavailable at IU (either because IU doesn't own it or it is currently checked out).||Use alongside Worldcat or when you don't find a book, journal, etc. in IUCAT.|
|Google Books||Contains books and journals that Google has scanned from many Library collections. Many items are available only in preview or snippet view.||Ideal for journals and books in the public domain (usually published before 1923). Preview can help locate particularly useful sections.|
|HathiTrust||Contains scanned books and journals, often the same materials as Google Books.||Navigation is often more cumbersome than Google Books, but locating specific journal issues is often easier.|
Below is a table discussing some options to explore if you know the types of materials you need but aren't sure where to find them. Remember that there are multiple ways to find an item and you may have to explore multiple options to find sources that are right for you.
|I am looking for:||Try searching in:|
|Peer-reviewed articles that I can access now||
OneSearch@IU or one of IU's many specialized databases
|An article that I need but can't access.||WorldCat, contacting a librarian, or Interlibrary Loan (for requesting the journal containing your article)|
|A book||IUCAT or Interlibrary Loan|
|A specific edition or manuscript of a text.||Lilly Library, Archives Online, contacting a librarian|
|A specific issue of a journal.||IUCAT or HathiTrust (for digital versions of journals)|
|A film||IUCAT, Finding Online Streaming Videos Guide, contact Media Services at IU|
|A newspaper||Major U.S. Newspapers: Resource Guide, Local Media Sources Guide|
Keep in mind that not everything that may be relevant to your research can be found online. While libraries, archives, and museums work to provide virtual access to their collections through digitization and preservation, the vast majority of materials held in repositories are not available digitally. We encourage you to visit our physical locations and work with the stewards of these collections so that you can find materials you may not come across otherwise. You'll find more information about accessing physical and digitized archival materials in the section above.
Now that you know about some of the resources available through IU Libraries, let's explore how to search these resources. What is the most effective way to find materials relevant to your research question? Learning to search is a skill, it’s okay if it feels difficult or if you’re not getting the results that you want. Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your searches. If you find yourself stuck or needing assistance, you can always reach out to a librarian or chat with a librarian online.
When you search Google, you are doing something called keyword searching. A keyword expresses a central concept or idea about a topic. In searching library resources like databases, be more selective with keywords and avoid using filler/extraneous words. Begin with a small number of terms and avoid long phrases.
What to identify when thinking of keywords:
Let's say that the subject of my paper is Media Coverage of the Civil Rights movement. We can break these concepts down into two separate ideas and develop keywords (listed below their respective concept in the table below) for each term:
|Concept 1: Media Coverage||Concept 2: Civil Rights Movement|
|National Newspapers||Racial Segregation|
|Activist Newspapers||Jim Crow Laws|
|National Television Stations||Black Panther Party|
|Broadcast Television||March on Washington|
Note that databases can be picky about search terms. Identify synonyms for your concepts and consider the words likely used by the database.
For more information on keyword searching look at the Library of Congress' Keyword Search page.
If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. It's important to experiment with different approaches, keywords, and databases as you move through the research process. Here, we offer some tips for reassessing and restructuring your search.
If you find that you are not finding as many results as you'd expect, or perhaps don't see any relevant resources, you can
1. Consider your choice of search terms
Choosing the right search terms is key. Experiment with related terms.
2. Try using fewer search terms
Database can be picky about search terms. Be selective. Begin with one of two search terms that best represent your topic. Then add other terms as needed. Avoid long phrases and empty words like “the” and “how.”
3. Remove some of your limiters and facets
If you limited the search (e.g., by date or search field) remove limiters and reassess.
4. Narrow your topic
Highly specific topics may be too narrow for finding results. Try a broader related topic first.
5. Consider database choice
Different databases focus on different topics. Review our lists of recommended resources in the navigation bar to the left, or view all of our Resources by Subject. Anytime you need help or have hit a dead-end, you can also reach out to Ask a Librarian.
If your searches are just recalling too many results for you to consider or work with, you can
1. Add additional keywords.
In databases, search terms can help you identify more narrow topics and keywords.
2. Choose more narrow search terms.
3. Use limiters. (e.g., search fields like title or abstract, publication date, format type).
Nearly all of our databases allow you to include multiple search fields. In OneSearch see options under Refine Search.
4. Search for a short phrase with quotation marks.
Placing phrases inside quotation marks will ensure that you are returning results that include that exact phrase, as opposed to the individual words within a phrase.
Most library databases use Boolean operators (denoted by AND, OR, NOT). These operators allow you to narrow or broaden search results. Make sure to capitalize the operators when you search. You can use the same search bar as you normally would to utilize these operators or you can use "Advanced Search" to enter multiple terms and select the Boolean operators you wish to use.
Nesting is the use of parenthesis to put search words into sets. Use nesting with AND, OR, or NOT,
Example: sexual politics AND (christianity OR evangelicalism)
(in this case, records will contain the word sexual politics, AND either the word Christianity OR the word evangelicalism)
Nesting is often used when search terms have similar meanings:
Example: feminism AND (women's studies OR gender studies)
Adapted from: SAIS Library, Johns Hopkins Univ. "Database Search Tips" Guide (no longer extant); MIT Libraries, Database Search Tips: Boolean operators.
Truncation lets you search for words that might have more than one ending. This is also known as word stemming. Use an asterisk (*) to perform this type of search:
Note that IUCAT truncates automatically, but you can use truncation in other databases.
Wildcard searching cycles through every letter to fill a spot. For example, use a question mark to perform this type of search:
The most commonly used single wildcard symbol is the question mark, but some exceptions include:
Check the documentation for any given database to see which characters they use for wildcard searching, and always feel free to reach out if you have questions.
Note that IUCAT does not support wildcards in searches, but many of our other databases do.
Adapted from: Meredith Knoff, Indiana University Libraries and National University and Library, "Truncation and Wildcard Searching."
If you are having trouble finding multiple resources that meet your search criteria or research needs, you can still expand your sources even with just one source! Once you've found a relevant source, try looking at the authors and publications cited in its References, Works Cited, or Bibliography and follow these to other sources. Additionally, using Google Scholar or other databases, you can see who has cited the resource (and how many times it had been cited), which can help you identify additional publications.
Sometimes, scholarship does not go on to become a scholarly text (such as an article or book). Consider consulting alternative academic sources, such as conference proceedings, seminars, abstracts, and theses and dissertations, which will allow you to find not only relevant scholarly work within the field that may align with your own research, but also will in many cases be more current than traditionally published sources. Keep in mind that these sources often do not undergo the same level of review as peer-reviewed work.
Primary sources provide direct or first-hand evidence about an event, object, person or work of art. They are usually contemporary to the events and people described and can be written or non-written. Common examples of primary sources include:
Photo: Archival Letters and Documents. Developing Primary Source Literacy, Margot Note Consulting LLC.
Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources, though they often quote or otherwise use primary sources. They were produced sometime after an event happened by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in said event. Secondary sources contain information that has been interpreted, analyzed or processed. Examples of secondary sources include:
Classifying something as a primary or secondary source often depends upon the topic and its use. A Gender Studies textbook, for example, would be considered a secondary source in the field of Gender Studies, since it describes and interprets the field but makes no original contribution to it. On the other hand, if the topic you are researching is the history of the Gender Studies discipline or the history of textbooks, this book could be used as a primary source to analyze how these fields have changed over time.
Adapted from: UMass Boston Healey Library, Primary Sources: A Research Guide (2023).
Tertiary sources index, abstract, organize, compile, and/or digest other sources. Some reference materials and textbooks are considered tertiary sources when their chief purpose is to list, summarize or simply repackage ideas or other information. Tertiary sources are usually not credited to a particular author and they do not provide original interpretations or analysis. The following sources can be considered tertiary:
Adapted from: University of Minnesota Crookston Libraries, Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources.
Many databases will primarily contain secondary sources in the form of scholarly articles, books, textbooks, and book reviews. When looking for primary sources, you can explore IU's archives (mentioned above) or databases and guides including:
Try the following keywords related to primary and secondary sources to assist you in your database searches:
Below is a table depicting examples of searches that can help you locate a specific type of source. Use search terms for names, events, topics, or document types:
|Source Type||Document Collections, Archives, Special Collections||Speeches, Lectures, and Orations||
Interviews, Personal Accounts, and Letters
|Commercial and Advertising Art|
feminism AND history AND sources
Virginia Woolf AND collections
Nadine Gordimer AND archives
Frederick Douglass AND speeches
Statesmen AND oration
Amy Tan AND lectures
Novelists AND correspondence
Rap musicians AND interviews
Working class women AND diaries
Advertising AND catalogs
Indigenous art AND catalogs
Newspapers AND Political advertisements
In this section we will talk about diverse sources and ways that you can incorporate them into your research. When considering how to be more expansive and inclusive in your search process, there are a few components to keep in mind:
Diversity can indicate the positionality of the author (for example, identifying as part of a marginalized group), the perspectives and experiences explored and that the author or publication support or represent, the publisher of a source (whether they are a scholarly, popular, trade, or government publisher, and what their editorial viewpoints or politics are), or the source type (non-peer reviewed journals, public writing, etc.; see more examples in the next tab of this box), or sometimes all of the above. Keep in mind that these are not mutually exclusive categories of consideration and inclusion; if you are searching for a government report, for example, you could still consider the identity and positionality of the authors of that report, as well as whether the report includes the voices and experiences of marginalized communities and/or those most affected by the topic.
Navigate through the following tabs of this feature for more guidance on how to incorporate different authors and kinds of sources into your research.
“Marginalized knowledge” refers to bodies of knowledge that have been devalued, ignored, fragmented, suppressed, appropriated, commodified, or disrespected, directly or indirectly by a dominant culture or institution. (Larson & Vaughan, 2019)
If you would like to expand beyond academic sources and be more inclusive in your process, it can be helpful to consider a variety of sources and source types when you are doing research for your project, to the extent that you can and depending on the requirements of your scholarship or assignment. While it's important to follow the guidelines provided by your professor or the standards of your field or publication, if you have more leeway or are working on an assignment without specific requirements, you might consider sources outside of those you're familiar with or have relied on in the past. By including other kinds of sources, such as those written by people outside of universities—including those who have been systematically excluded from academia or have community knowledge and lived experiences that aren't valued by these institutions—your research will be stronger, more inclusive, and reflect a more holistic understanding of the topic.
In the next section of this guide, we will discuss what it means for a paper to be peer-reviewed. While it is frequently assumed that peer review is a bias-free process of evaluation that produces objective scholarship on a given topic, it would be impossible for a paper to be completely free of bias. Bias can manifest in who is selected to peer review, as well as what (and who) is and is not cited or included in research. Peer review privileges those with institutional and educational access, as does much academic scholarship. This is not to say that peer-reviewed articles are not useful; they definitely have their place in your process and project. However, it is important to remember that this type of source is only one among many, and that other sources may contain relevant information and be useful for your research.
Below are six types of sources that you can look to and include in your research process:
Image: Infographic of source types. Adapted from Aneta Kwak, Jeff Newman, Mikayla Redden (see full citation below).
Ultimately, using a wider range of source types can help you in:
For a more interactive process, use this "Finding Diverse Sources Handout & Activity" to brainstorm ways to find diverse sources about your topic
In addition to considering multiple source types, you can also be more inclusive in finding sources by considering the identity and positionality of the author(s). Utilizing research and scholarship from a diverse group of authors also improves the quality of your research.
One key component of this, and an important consideration in your research more generally, is to include the voices of people and communities whom your paper addresses. For example, if you are talking about Indigenous philosophy, your paper will benefit greatly from incorporating the voices of Indigenous scholars, thinkers, and community members. If you are writing about Asian American media, you should include Asian American voices and experiences in your citations. When possible, always consider voices that are a part of the communities you research, which will make your work more relevant, inclusive, and ethical.
For more examples of diverse sources and where/how to find them, see our feature on Citational Justice. For a few examples of the types of resources you'll find there, try the following links:
You can also use an assessment tool like the Gray Test. We talk more about this strategy in our Citational Justice section, but it can also be used preemptively in your own search process to to consider how diverse you want your list of sources to be and to ensure that you are including more representative and inclusive sources in your research.
"The Gray Test" was developed by Dr. Wendy Belcher, a professor of African literature at Princeton University, who was inspired by Dr. Kishonna Grays blog post and associated hashtag on Twitter, "#CiteHerWork: Marginalizing Women in Academic and Journalistic Writing." This rubric can be used to assess scholarship by the number and usage of citations by women and non-white individuals. As she described it on Twitter, in order to pass the test “a journal article must not only cite the scholarship of at least two women and two non-white people, but must discuss it in the body of the text.”
You can use the Gray Test to assess the inclusivity of scholarship by others or as a way to reflect on your own work and citational practices. To use this test as a way to incorporate more diverse sources in your search process and research, consider the following questions and either 1) how you would answer them about your own current list of sources and citations, or 2) how you might use them as a guide when you are looking for new sources to include in your project or scholarship:
To pass the Gray Test, a work must meet all three of these criteria. While there are a number of ways to consider and assess the value and inclusivity of scholarship and citational practices, and there are many marginalized identities that it does not include, this test can be one tool you use to reflect on your and others' commitment to citational justice.
Image: The Gray Test. Laurier Course Guides: Tween Literature and Culture.
To learn more about the Gray Test, visit our local page with more information or read the following article from Women in Higher Education (WIHE): "Researching Gaming and Showing Why Citations Matter."