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Advanced Research Workshop Guide

Recognize why this project is different than your prior coursework

Working on your thesis is a milestone in your college career. It's probably the first product of scholarly work where you can consider yourself the primary "expert" on your topic and person directing your progress and path of inquiry. Own this and reflect it in your meetings with your thesis advisers and research librarians. A thesis project requires increased personal responsibility; you are establishing the scholarly conversation you are engaging in.

Some tips for effective meetings with your librarian and thesis advisers:

* Bring a working bibliography with you. Even if you're not sure about many of the sources on there, it will give your adviser an idea of what work you are doing and what direction you are going in. Ask your advisor what their favorite journals in the field are.  Your adviser may suggest some texts to you, but go beyond that in your research and bring additional sources to your adviser to discuss. 

* If you're looking for a particular source you found cited somewhere else, show your librarian the original source you found the citation in. Often, there is information there that provides essential information.

* It helps to have an idea about the types of sources you are interested in finding.  What are you hoping to find?  Is it a data set, personal narrative, a foreign newspaper, a magazine written from a particular political perspective?  Each source has unique conventions that should inform your research strategy.  A librarian can discuss these with you, as can your adviser.

Organize early

Following the rule of thumb that you will always find and examine multiple times more than you will actually end up using in your final paper (research, like editing, requires ruthless editing), you will need to establish an organization system for your sources, notes and citations. Start organizing immediately, you can always refine your system as you go along, but without one, you risk getting overwhelmed. The goal is something you can use consistently, but flexibly.


  • Export citations for books and articles from library catalogs and databases directly into Refworks.  Most databases and catalogs provide a way for to send yourself a list in a variety of ways. Exporting to Refworks will keep you more organized than a series of emails.  Additionally, Refworks will also import the "360 Link to FullText" link resolver, which is a time saver because it can link you to the full-text or to the page for InterLibrary Loan requests.
  • The personalized folder system will help keep you organized. For example, use folders labeled Yes, No and Maybe during the rough sort early portion of your research. I recommend keeping a "No" folder for citations you don't think you'll refer to because I often meet with students whose question begins, "a few months ago I had this article...." Later on in the process, you may want folders by chapter or theme of your thesis.
  • Print a bibliography to bring to your advisor meeting. Or, you can share folders through Refworks with your advisor.
  • For the final drafts, you should export the bibliography to a document you can edit so you c


  • You have probably encountered a variety of note taking examples and recommendations during college so far. Talk to faculty and give some thought to picking one you think will best carry you through this long project.  A dedicated notebook?  Note cards? GoogleDrive documents?  Evernote?
  • In addition to making notes about content and themes, you will want to note keyword language (terms gleaned from indexes of other books, author abstracts etc.), subject heading names, names of scholars writing in your field,  names of people, organizations, journals or magazines relevant to your topic.  Think of note taking systems that will be effective for the variety of types of information you will be gathering.
  • Read through the style manual you will be following and consult it during your research process.  What details does it require for the citation of sources that are webpages, on microfilm, or another difficult to cite item.  For example, when working with microfilm, there is often a slide number for the film in addition to the pagination of the original work.  You will need to note both.  These are great questions for a librarian. Another example, if you will be working with websites, will you cite the DOI, or the URL.  Zotero works well citing websites.

Identify key secondary sources & confirm your primary source base

Identify key secondary sources. It's crucial to place your thesis in the framework of some larger scholarly conversations. Identify scholars whose work you will engage with early on in your research process. It's also essential to confirm that you will have enough primary sources available to support your thesis. You must confirm what primary source you want and need and if they are available and accessible to you.

As you search through library catalogs, take note (literally, make lists) of the Library of Congress Subject Headings associated with your topic. The subject headings will be the same in other library catalogs and databases, and that language provides crucial keyword searching terms.

When you are searching in library catalogs for book length studies about your topic, remember to search broader than your topic as well as in narrower related sub-topics. Many book length secondary sources will not require reading in entirety. Use table of contents and indexes effectively to identify crucial chapters and passages. 

Peruse the bibliographies and footnotes in your secondary sources for references to primary sources. Also take note of dates/events, organization names, personal names, names of particular policies, laws or initiatives etc.; all of these are potential keywords for finding additional primary sources.

Refine your topic

In consultation with your faculty thesis advisor, you will articulate a broad beginning of a thesis topic.  Through your initial research in preparation for submitting your thesis proposal and preliminary bibliography, you will begin to narrow your thesis topic to an appropriate scope.

It's crucial to confirm early that you have access to enough primary sources to complete research on your selected topic.