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If you feel overwhelmed and you're not sure where to start follow these five simple steps to begin your next music research project!
Step 1: Identify your Topic
The first thing you need to do when starting a new research project is to identify your topic. Choose something that interests you – this will make your research more engaging and fun. It’s important to brainstorm a couple of different topics, ask questions about those topics, think about how in depth your research needs to be, how long your ultimate project is going to be, and how much time you have to complete your research.
Step 2: Gather Background Information
Once you’ve selected a topic it’s time to start your preliminary research by gathering background information and identifying key concepts. Use reference sources, like Grove Music Online, The Oxford History of Western Music, or even Google, to learn about the people, places, and subjects that relate to your topic.
Step 3: The Search
- Use Catalogs to Find Relevant Books and Media: Once you have a cursory understanding of your research topic, its’s time to start searching for books and media on DePauw’s Discovery Search and WorldCat. Discovery search will show you what we have available at DePauw University as well as show you what’s available through PALNI. WordCat will show you resources available in libraries outside of the DePauw and the PALNI network. This will show you what is available at other libraries – resources you are able to request via Interlibrary Loan.
When looking at catalogs, keep track of the subject headings that appear in the records. You can click on the headings to see related items in the catalog and might even help you find new search terms or strategies.
- Use Indexes to Find Articles: With music specific research, you will want to use online music indexes including RILM Abstracts of Music Literature and Music Periodicals Database (formerly known as IIMP+IIMP Full Texts). It’s important to note that indexes are used to quickly locate data, you will find abstracts of resources, not the resource in its entirety.
- Search Full Text Databases: When searching full text databases you may want to start with with ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. Dissertations and Theses can be super relevant, recently released resources. They usually feature current bibliographies and may help you focus your topic or provide you with resources you may have not found in your previous searches.
JSTOR and Project Muse are both online journal archives with full-text content but are more difficult to search effectively because they rely on keyword searches or full-text documents in order to produce results.
Step 4: Evaluate your Findings
Evaluating sources when doing research can be a really complicated process but it’s important to recognize that the credibility of your research depends on the reliability of the information you use to support your points. Evaluation generally incorporates an initial appraisal and a content analysis.
- Your initial appraisal should confirm source authenticity, authority, and suitability: Does the author have authority in the field? Is this resource peer reviewed or published by a reputable group? Is this information current? Look at subject headings or tags: Do the subject headings and tags seem relevant to your topic?
- Your content analysis should be a little more thorough: Read a review, summary, abstract, or the table of contents -- this will help you identify if the source pertains to your research needs. Who is the intended audience? What is the purpose of the information?
Step 5: Select and Organize Your Research
When you start gathering your sources make sure that you have an organization method in mind and stick with it. Have a dedicated folder for all articles and a space for your books. Use a citation manager like Zotero. Find some sort of organizational method that works for you and stick with it.
Start working on a bibliography of all of your sources. Cite your resources consistently and start adding annotations or brief notes to articulate how you plan on using your sources in your project.