More tips on researching a topic at Yale
Defining your topic
What's your angle?
Example: You're writing a paper on the fall of the Berlin Wall in
What alternate terms might be relevant to your topic?
What perspective do you plan to study? A historical, sociological, or political
one? Are you interested in the events leading up to it, or its consequences?
Do you want to highlight the differences between East and West Germany before
reunification? Is there another angle? Literary? Clarifying and refining your
questions will help you approach the topic more systematically and identify
Think about what vocabulary/search terms could be used in reference
to your subject, e.g., "fall of the wall" vs. reunification (unification). Part
of preparing a search is coming up with relevant, synonymous terms that capture
Finding material written on your topic
What types of things can you expect to find at the
Libraries traditionally separate resources according to their formats
- print materials from microtext, electronic resources from print, visual materials
from audio, and, in some cases, books from periodicals. These artificial separations
are counteracted by a variety of specialized tools, including Abstracts,
aids, Guides, and Indexes,
all of which are designed to identify and point to information regardless of
Which Yale Library should you use?
Libraries also utilize classification systems and subject headings
to categorize content regardless of format. Yale libraries now use the Library
of Congress Classification system and Library of Congress Subject Headings,
but various other classification and subject heading systems have been used
in the past.
There are twenty-two libraries and numerous special collections in
the Yale library system. See the Library
Locations map for links to their individual Web sites. Overviews of the Area
Studies Collections and Special
Collections at Yale are also available. The Yale online catalog, Orbis,
combines records from many of the Yale libraries and lets you know where the
books or journals you want are physically located. You can also get a sense of
which Yale library is most relevant to your work by looking at the Subject
Guides that have been developed by Yale librarians.
The following catalogs will help you find books, journal
titles, and other types of material:
Your search terms are extremely important, since your results will only reflect
materials whose titles or descriptions include the words you use. Knowing the
correct terminology and coming up with synonymous terms will help you cover your
bases. Sometimes, but not always, you will get a cross-reference to the correct
or alternate headings:
- Orbis, the Yale University
Library online catalog will show materials that, for the most part, are immediately
available to you on campus.
is a major union catalog of records describing books, serials, archival collections,
manuscripts, maps, musical scores, sound recordings, films, photographs, posters,
computer files, electronic resources that shows materials that are held in
research, corporate, and public libraries, as well as museums, archives and
historical societies, all around the country. Use the Yale Links Many of these
materials can be ordered through Interlibrary Loan.
, another online "union catalog", contains records of books and other materials
held in thousands of academic, public, special and national libraries around
the world. Many of these materials can be ordered through Interlibrary Loan.
Subject Search: germany--history--unification, 1990
Since even these cross-references are not foolproof, you should try out synonymous
terms, which can bring up distinct results:
Subject Search: comparative literature
Subject Search: vietnam war
Subject Search: male studies
The record of a relevant book or journal can lead you to appropriate subject headings
for further searching. For example, search this title in Orbis:
Subject Search: masculinity
Subject Search: mens studies
speaking for themselves the personal letters of Winston and Clementine
Then search the subject headings you see in the record. You can click on a subject
heading to search that subject heading:
Subjects (Library of Congress): Churchill, Winston, Sir, 1874-1965
Churchill, Clementine, Lady, 1885-1977 --Correspondence.
Prime ministers--Great Britain--Correspondence.
Prime ministers' spouses--Great Britain--Correspondence.
Great Britain--Politics and government--20th century.
You can also cull useful terms from subject headings to construct more complex
keyword searches, e.g.: a keyword search for churchill and winston and correspondence.
Notice that terms may differ even among subject headings, so that using alternate
terms will help you find related materials:
Subject Search: Germany--History--Unification, 1990
Subject Search: german reunification question (194-1990)
The results screen is a browsable list of all subject headings. You can use
the Previous and Next buttons to browse other alphabetically arranged subject
Catalogs include newspapers and magazines, but not their contents. To find
articles, you need to search periodical indexes (see below).
Bibliographies or research guides (all formats): Librarians and archivists
here at Yale have created numerous topical research guides to aid researchers.
The Subject Guides are excellent
starting points for identifying relevant research materials here at Yale, at
other institutions, and on the Internet. Some of the Subject Guides emphasize
Internet sources, while others incorporate bibliographies of printed materials.
Many published bibliographies exist that cover anything from entire disciplines
to specific topics, such as noteworthy people, historical events, or particular
time periods. Such guides might be fairly general or extremely specialized. You
can search for a bibliography in Orbis or another catalog with a subject or keyword
Subject Search: Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Bibliography--Catalogs
As mentioned above, the records of known titles can help you identify appropriate
Subject Search: history--bibliography
Subject Search: literature--history and criticism--bibliography
Keyword Search: jew? and history and bibliography (will search jew, jews, jewish...
and history and bibliography)
Title Search: guide to historical literature
Look for articles and book chapters in indexes
Title Search: holocaust : a selected monographic bibliography
Catalogs include newspapers and magazines, but not their contents.
To find articles, you need to search periodical indexes. There are general and
specialized scholarly indexes, as well as indexes to popular magazines and newspapers.
General indexes can help you get started or give you enough for a short paper.
For more thorough research, such as that required for seminar papers and senior
essays, a discipline-specific index may be more appropriate. Many indexes are
available online; however, some exist only as a CD-ROM in a particular library,
or as a printed series.
Is it smart to use the Internet for your research?
Research Guides by Subject
& Article Searching will help you to identify useful indexes for your
While search commands differ among databases, the same principles for subject
and keyword searching in catalogs apply to index searching. Most databases have
online help; the information pages for the databases often point to web-based
tutorials and search guides (see, for example, the Wilson
Web information page).
General academic indexes and abstracts:
Examples of specialized indexes:
Indexes and databases for newspapers and popular press:
It is crucial to remember that many online indexes contain only current citations. However, many were preceded by printed equivalents, which are
frequently mentioned on the databases' information page under "Other Versions"
or "Related Sources" (see, for example, the Readers’ Guide Retrospective information page). While the Readers' Guide to Periodical
Literature, which dates back to 1901, is exceptional, it is worth it to notice
the coverage of a database and its predecessors.
Three points to remember:
How to locate materials
- Web pages freely available to the public out on the Internet are in a whole
different universe from the electronic resources for which the Library pays
to have access. Make sure you take advantage of all the Yale money being invested
in the powerful tools available through Databases
& Article Searching.
- You can't trust everything you find on the Web. If you use web resources,
be sure to ask these questions.
- Yale librarians have "filtered out" many of the best Web sites and put links
to them in the Subject Guides
that they have developed.
- Books: look up a book by author or title in the catalog (remember to
check the Morris card catalog
for law-related books). The catalog will give you the library, location,
and call number. Each library has local stack directories and floor plans.
Treat dissertations like books (references to Dissertation Abstracts lead
to summaries, not the full text of dissertations or search Dissertations
and Theses - Full Text for fulltext of dissertations published after
- Journal articles: look up the journal title in Orbis; if it is there, check
the holdings to verify which volumes the Library has and Notes (
e.g. Current issues in SML Periodical Room. (Section 9)) and Current Issues.
The library owns all the volumes under "Current Issues" as well as what's listed
under "Library Has." They are listed separately because current issues are
often shelved separately from the bound or microfilmed back issues. Make sure
you note the location for the issues you need, and any status information,
which will show up after the holdings.
- Anything not held at Yale: submit an ILL request. See Document
Delivery Services for more information. Remember to allow 2-3 weeks for
Interlibrary loans. Materials will not be forwarded to out of town locations,
nor will they be held beyond their regular due date if you are away. The same
is true for Hold and Eli Express requests, which will not remain at Circulation
beyond the usual time period.
- Remember to cite your sources. Look here for help citing
materials (both printed materials and sources on the web).
Orbis Help Guide
Yale University Library Workshops
Back to Researching
a Topic in Four Easy Steps
© 2006 Yale University Library
This file last modified 07/31/06
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