First, you need to define your topic. You may choose from the list of suggested topics in this packet, but many of them are rather broad, too broad to make a manageable short paper. You need to narrow them down. Begin by doing some general reading on your topic in encyclopedias and other reference works which have been shown you as part of your library orientation session. Note down aspects of the topic that 1) seem to be important, 2) interest you and 3) about which there seems to be a good deal of scholarly writing done. Read Sylvan Barnet"s A Short Guide to Writing About Literature to discover how to define a topic.
Second, you need to compile a list of sources. Using appropriate bibliographies, indexes, and Cougalog, you will need to identify the articles and books which may be useful to you. The computer catalog is of only limited help. It cannot find relevant chapters within books which cover a number of topics, nor can it help you identify articles in journals. You must use indexes to locate these sorts of items, including computer indexes like First Search and the various CD-ROM indexes. Be sure to include at least one biography of your writer/artist/composer: biographies usually contain extensive discussion of works. Note: when looking for older scholarship which is not listed on the computer, check the card catalogue. Nothing in the computer is duplicated in the card catalogue and vice versa, and for literary study the card catalogue is sometimes useful. Videotapes of operas and plays are not listed in Cougalog either; you will need to go to MMS on Floor "G" of Holland to locate them.
Even using indexes and bibliographies may not be sufficient to identify all the relevant scholarship. Try to find out whether there is a separate, bound bibliography dedicated to your specific subject (such as Mark Twain, for instance). These will save you an immense amount of time. But be careful. Check to find out what period is covered by a specialized bibliography. If it was published in 1984, you will need to rely on other sources for more recent material.
One good shortcut is to check a recent article or book on your topic to see whether it has an extensive bibliography. You can then track down the books and articles which the author has used. The MLA Bibliography or Humanities Index on CD-ROM are good sources for recent articles and books.
Browsing through the books in the stacks may be helpful. However, this technique has its limitations. Many times the articles and chapters most useful to beginning researchers are not shelved in the same area as the bulk of criticism on a particular author, and the best items may be checked out.
Fourth, identify whether Holland Library has the books and articles you need. If there seems to be an important article in a journal which we do not have , you can order a photocopy of it from another library through interlibrary loan. There is a small charge. You may want to set a maximum fee which you are willing to pay. But since this process can take several weeks, it is only worth doing if you have allowed yourself plenty of time. Another reason to start your research early. Check the University of Idaho catalogue which we have on microfiche at the refeence desk. You can borrow their books on your WSU card if you have transportation to get to Moscow.
Fifth, when you look at scholarly books and articles you need to evaluate them. Ask yourself the following questions:
How old is this item? Is it likely to be dated? Might there be later studies which have made it obsolete?
How authoritative is the critic? Does he/she seem to have any obvious biases? Is this the author writing about his or her own work? Does the critic seem to be a close friend or sworn enemy of the author he/she is writing about?
Is there useful critical apparatus in this item? An introduction? A table of contents? Notes? A bibliography? An index? (Hint: indexes are usually much more helpful than tables of contents.) An abstract which summarizes the article? (Hint: these usually appear at the beginning of articles.)
Is this item really about your specific topic? Is there only a little bit of information about your topic, or a lot?
Can you understand this item? Or is it written in a specialized jargon which is over your head? Do you need to do some more background reading to understand the item? Never cite a source that you don"t understand.
Sixth, take your notes and write your paper . Again, consult Barnet for help. Be careful to take down all relevant bibliographical data when you are making your notes: author, title, city of publication and publisher (for a book), volume and issue number (for a journal), year of publication ( not date of printing), page numbers for the entire article or chapter and specific page numbers for quoted or cited material. Remember, your main task is to show what you have learned. Tell us what scholars and critics have said about your topic.
Quote when you need to analyze your source"s exact words. Do not quote without introducing the quotation (identifying who you are quoting) and saying something about the quotation. Do not quote for quoting"s sake. Often you will find it more useful to paraphrase your source: "George Smith claims that Asimov"s Foundation series is flawed because its theory of psychohistory is magic disguised as science."
Use your sources. Don"t just quote them and let them lie there. Pick out their main ideas. Evaluate them. Examine them for weaknesses. Compare one source with another. Bring your own arguments against theirs. Incorporate them into your own writing. Don"t let your sources dominate the paper entirely. This is your paper, in which you are using these sources to make your own points. Don"t just dump your notes uncritically into your paper. But don"t argue against a source without giving reasons for your difference of opinion and presenting evidence to back it up. Opinions and gut reactions by themselves don"t count.
Cite your sources. Use the MLA parenthetical form of citation described in Barnet (call no. PE1479.C7B3 1985, one copy in the reference room, and one in the stacks) and in the chapter on "Writing in the Humanities" in the Holt Guide to Documentation and Writing in the Disciplines (a supplement to The Holt Handbook, 1989 call no. Z1001.K57x ). Both are available in the Bookie. Cite all sources used whether you quote them or not. If you get an idea or a fact (other than matters of common knowledge), the source from which you got it must be cited. Your notes are your citations. A simple list of sources cited is not a citation.
Write a list of sources cited. Do not call this a "bibliography." Include in this list all of the books, chapters, and articles which you actually used in preparing the paper and which you have cited in your text (if you used them, you should have cited them). Do not list any books or articles 1) that you have not actually read, or 2) which you did not actually use in your paper. You may look up and read several items which turn out to be useless for your paper. Do not list them. Be sure to use proper MLA bibliographical form. Again, consult Barnet or the Holt Guide to Documentation and Writing in the Disciplines.
Re-read "Helpful Hints for Writing Student Papers" and check to make sure you have not committed any of the errors discussed in it.
If you are having problems involving organization, coherence, clarity, etc., you might want to seek help from the Writing Lab on the fourth floor of Avery Hall. Their services are free and will not appear on your transcript.
If at any point you need help or advice, ask!