Research and Writing Resources
images of writers

How do I find sources for my paper?

[The most important thing I learned in the J300 is] “[h]ow to utilize the resources that the university has to offer.  It is amazing what you can discover once you know where to look... Be prepared.  Do not wait until the last minute to start research-it's the most time-consuming and crucial part.” Allison Hartnett, J300 student, Spring 2005

"Familiarize yourself with the services in the library.  It will help."  Steve Freeman, J300 student, Spring 2005

Scenario 1.  I don't know what I want to write about, and I don't have any sources.

Answer:  In this case, it's best to go back a step to answer the question, How do I get started on the research process?   Once you have a topic, you can begin to find sources on it.

Scenario 2.  I've chosen a topic to research, but I don't have any sources.  How do I get started?

Answer:   One easy way is to visit the Reference Reading Room in the Herman B Wells (Main) Library.  There you can consult dictionaries, encyclopedias, research guides, bibliographies, indexes, and other reference books.  You might want to start with subject-specific encyclopedias or with guides to history such as the Oxford “Companion” series, because they provide welcome, basic, factual information, and a selected bibliography of further reading for many topics.  You can browse the shelves of the Reference Reading Room, or search the Reference Collection catalog to find reference books that cover your topic.

Scenario 3. I've chosen a topic and I've got one source about it.  How do I find more sources?


1. Use IUCAT, the IU Libraries online catalog, to find more sources, both primary and secondary.  

2. If you have found at least one secondary source about your subject, see what that author has looked at.  Read the footnotes and bibliography carefully, looking for sources that you might be able to use.

3. If the source you've found is a book from the IU Libraries collection, you can browse the books near it on the library shelves, to find other books on the same topic.  You can even do this without visiting the shelves themselves, using the Call Number screen in IUCAT (screenshot).

Scenario 4.  I've got a topic, and I'm pretty familiar with IU's library resources already.  Where else can I find sources, particularly primary sources, for my paper?

Answer:  There are a few other places you should search for sources:

1. If your course has a library resources page, check there for more specific IUCAT search strategies.

2. If you need to find scholarly articles on your topic, you can search online journal indexes or databases.

3. If you're unable to find enough sources in the IU libraries, you should search WorldCat, which is sort of a giant version of IUCAT.  WorldCat is a combined online catalog of most of the libraries in the US and some major international libraries.  Many items (including most books) that you find in WorldCat can be borrowed from a library that has them, using the “Request via Interlibrary Loan” link in the WorldCat record for the item.  Remember to allow up to 2 weeks for delivery (another reason to start early on your research!).

4. To find primary sources:

•  Search JSTOR.  JSTOR goes back to the 1600s for some journals.

•  For 19th and 20th century American topics, consult the Reader's Guide Retrospective.

•  For 18th, 19th, and 20th century European and North American topics, search the Periodicals Contents Index.  Unlike JSTOR, these indexes do not contain full text; click on the in the record to track down a hard copy or full text of the article.

•  More and more primary sources are available in electronic form.  Some are available on the Internet; follow this link to learn more about using these sources.  Before you use these sources, you need to think about whether they're reliable; follow this link to learn more.

•  You can also browse a list of electronic collections owned by the IUB Libraries.

5. For more ideas, consult the IUB Libraries Databases by Subject page or the History Collections databases.

How to search IUCAT

How to use online journal indexes or databases

Can I use the www for research?