Research: Getting started (using the Online Library and finding electronic journals, etc)

All academic essays, reports, reviews etc. need supporting source material. This will mostly be reading, but also watching, looking and listening.

Information can come in many formats but you’ll need to cover as many bases as possible.

Remember ‘research’ takes time, you can’t do it in the last few days before hand-in. Well, you can try, but frankly leaving it to the last moment isn’t going to help you produce a good essay, report, review etc.

Your final bibliography should contain examples from most, if not necessarily all, of the formats below. It goes without saying that nowadays any of these can be digital artifacts (often prefixed with the letter e – as in ebook) though a fair few will still be printed sources.

  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Websites
  • Films
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Podcasts
  • Newspaper articles
  • And probably others we’ve forgotten to list such as games, software…etc.

Remember that although you can find a whole heap of information sources on the World Wide Web the fact remains that no author needs permission to stick up a website and often nobody has edited or proofread their facts and opinions. So be careful and wary of web resources that don’t come from recognised academic sources or something like a museum or a recognised organisation. That’s not to suggest there’s not lots of perfectly honest and sound information out there, but there are some very dodgy sites.

You need to cite or reference all the sources you’ve found and used in your work. There’s a separate section on the way in which the School of Creative Arts wants you to follow – called the Author-Date or ‘Harvard System’.

It’s also worth noting at this point that if you find a useful resource record its details so you can put it in your bibliography (long word for an alphabetical list of information sources you used).

OK – how do you find these sources of information?

Wandering around the LRCs gazing at the shelves (it’s called browsing) is perhaps the least useful approach, though it can be dreadfully distracting, persuades you that you’re seriously researching (you aren’t) and although you might end up being highly entertained, you’ll usually be confused and none the wiser about the task in hand. You’d be better off using Library Search, which lists all the resources held physically and electronically in the University’s collections.

Even if you think it doesn’t come easy to you, be systematic in your researches. First sit down and think about the subject you want to write about. Read the brief, look at the task you’ve been given. Write down the key words which define your subject. Think of different words to describe your subject – they’re called synonyms. If you’re looking at a film write down the director’s name, if you’re looking at an artist or designer, who did she or he know, be influenced by, copy?

You could use Wikipedia, but always triangulate your information with other reference sources. And remember Wikipedia or other encyclopaedias, dictionaries etc. are just starting points, at University level you’ll need to dig deeper.

Oh. And a small tip. Don’t start with a Google search. No honestly – don’t. And those of you who use Yahoo or Bing or whatever. Don’t. Got that?

Good. Now go to StudyNet. At the top you’ll see a link – two words. ‘Online Library’. Click on it.

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You’ll find a new page and it will have a splash-screen on it (one of those annoying web things that pop up when you least want it to). It’ll ask you to switch it off in future if you want. Do this, unless you like being annoyed.

You’ll see a page full of links topped with a search bar:

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Library Search will allow you to discover all the books, ebooks, journal articles and DVDs etc which the University has in its collections.  You can read many books online but for those still on the shelves always remember to check the location. And be prepared to walk or catch a bus. Some stuff is at College Lane LRC, but others are at de Havilland LRC.

We highly recommended the i-spy tutorials, found in the quick links list on the right, they can assure you that you’re searching correctly.

 Library Search:  searching tips   

  • Type your search in the box, then take a look at the list of references found. If searching for a phrase, use quotation marks (eg “teacher education”).
  • If the list is too long, use the Refine menu bar on the left to select the most relevant material.
    You can limit a search by date, type of material (book, journal article, report etc), or subject area.
  • You can also click the options under the search box before typing your search to find just books (useful if looking for a specific one) or just academic journal articles.
  • Then select items from the list to consult later , or click to read e-versions or see the location of printed items. To keep a record of your list of selected items, click the folder icon at the top of the page. From here you can print the details, export them or email them to yourself.

In the middle of the screen you should find Your Subject Toolkits. You should see Creative Arts, or Film & Media, or Music. Click on the image.

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Welcome to the Information Toolkit for your studies.

This has lists of useful sources just some of them are:

Specialist databases

These are things like the British Cartoon Archive, Box of Broadcasts and Classic Cinema Online as well as other collections of images, sounds and video content.

Journals

Links to online resources that you can search for journal articles.  Journal articles are extremely important sources of information to support your essays.  Most of these resources are paid for by UH and you can’t get them unless you’re a student at UH. These cover the relevant publications in the areas you study.

For example FIAF is a database of a whole shedload of Film & TV journals and magazines and in many cases you can download the pdfs or HTML versions of the articles you find. ArtFullText has many electronic versions of the major publications in the areas of Art, Design Architecture etc. There’s IIMP for music, a cracking database that covers everything from Baroque Music to Electronica. Once you’ve started using them you’ll wonder how you coped before. And remember that Library Search can search across many of these databases at once!

There are Information Toolkits for every subject taught at the Uni, so look around if you want to go ‘off piste’. Marketing, Nursing, Education? There’s a database for it.

Learning and research skills

Really useful online tutorials – and the PDF version of this guide!

Referencing, copyright and plagiarism

Help with how to reference your essays and reports and links to Turnitin – a piece of software which can check you haven’t plagiarised by mistake.

OK. You’ve found books, journal articles, now you can go to Google. Why last? Well it’s huge. Stick in almost any subject and look how many websites it’s collected. Millions.

Can you be bothered to look even the first twenty pages of results? Thought not.

If you need to use Google we recommend using Google Scholar https://scholar.google.co.uk . It restricts itself to academic material. Which is good, if a little too restrictive in the Creative Arts. To alleviate this try databases such as those listed in the Journal Databases in the Information Toolkit for Creative Arts.

All of the resources listed above can be accessed from on-campus and off-campus. Always log-on to StudyNet as this is what lets you access all the good research stuff.  Then start with Library Search and see what you can find.

The Toolkit is also where to find the contact details of your Information Manager, Cathy Tong (c.tong@herts.ac.uk).  She supports students and staff of the School of Creative Arts to find information for essays, coursework, research and teaching.

If you have never used a large library before or don’t know what online resources you should use, Cathy can help.  Any question however small or silly you think it is – she will answer it!* You can also make an appointment with Cathy if there is lots you need to ask.

*Disclaimer:  Cathy can only answer your small and silly questions if it relates to information sources, books or journals.

Bad example:

You: “My hamster, Gerald,  won’t eat his food what should I do?”

Cathy: “I’m sorry I can’t help poor Gerald…”

Good example: 

You: “I have been asked by my lecturer to look up journal articles for my essay on the history of cinema.  I don’t know what a journal is, can you help?”

Cathy: “Yes, yes of course I can help…”

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