Different documents are the most important that you will create in your academic career, and as a result they need to represent not just a deep commitment to research and knowledge development but also a clear and compelling picture of your own skills as an academician and researcher of the first order. “For doctoral students,” Katherine Herr and Gary L. Anderson write in The Action Research Dissertation, “the journey through the required research component of doctoral education is particularly challenging, pushing them intellectually, philosophically, emotionally, and even financially.” Because of the stress and challenge of researching a dissertation or thesis, knowing a few powerful sources for dissertation or thesis research can be especially helpful. This article will show you five great research sources that can help you across a range of thesis or dissertation topics. These sources, of course, aren’t the only great sources of information, but they will help you to get started. Like with any source, however, you should always apply the proper tests of evidence to any information you find through them and cross-check the information with other sources to ensure it is reliable and accurate.
SOURCE 1: Academic Journal Databases
While this might seem obvious, online academic databases such as JSTOR, the Gale Group, and PubMed offer full-text access to decades of academic journals. These articles are searchable by keyword and by topic, allowing students to sift through results and find targeted information quickly and easily. Some databases, such as JSTOR, cover a wide range of liberal arts topics, while other databases, such as PubMed, are specifically targeted to a single subject. Be sure not to limit yourself to a single database when you do your research. Sure, researching medical science in PubMed sounds like the right choice, but a quick search of other databases might turn up journals not covered in that database or interdisciplinary perspectives on your topic that might make all the difference.
SOURCE 2: Google Books Google Books is not all-seeing or all-knowing—yet
However, it does have the largest database of electronic books yet available. A Google Books search can turn up obscure or forgotten information in texts even a large university research library may not have. If you are doing historical research, the out-of-copyright books are available as full text scans of the original editions. For more recent works, a Google Books search can point you to sources and give you a preview of books to order through an interlibrary loan.
SOURCE 3: The Library of Congress and the National Archives
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, and because it is publically owned and operated, its materials, including images, are available for free to the public, something other major repositories such as the British Library can’t boast. Both the Library of Congress and the National Archives have extensive online collections of materials on a range of subjects, from science and medicine to sociology to politics. It’s not just for American history!
In addition, the Library of Congress also hosts a major image and photograph collection, much of which is available for free. These images cover subjects including American history, world history, science, space, cartoons, posters, and more, and can be downloaded from the Library’s website and can be used for any purposes without license or royalty (subject, of course, to copyright restrictions for some limited classes of items). If your dissertation requires illustrations, the Library of Congress is an excellent place to “shop” for photographs, paintings, prints, and other images.
SOURCE 4: Newspaper Archives
Historical research often relies on old news reports to get a sense of “history’s rough draft” and what was considered important or newsworthy at any given moment. Today, many newspapers have searchable online archives. The New York Times offers free access to its historical newspapers from 1851 to the twentieth century and paid access to more recent issues on its website. Time magazine currently offers free access to its entire print run, from 1927 to today. ProQuest offers a historical newspaper database that allows researchers to study back issues of national, regional, and local papers—ranging from the Bloomington(Illinois) Pantograph to the Christian Science Monitor. Lexis-Nexis also offers historical and contemporary newspaper searches, as well as transcripts of television news broadcasts.
SOURCE 5: A Librarian
Make friends with your university librarians! Databases and keywords can be great for searching out targeted information, but keywords can’t give you a broader sense of a topic, or recognize the relationships between closely related concepts, like “dog” and “canine.” As a result, even the best online searches can miss vital information. That’s where librarians come in. Librarians are trained experts in information storage and retrieval. They have the expertise to direct you toward sources you may not have considered and to turn up documentation you might otherwise miss.
These professional information managers typically have a Master’s in Library Science and years of expertise helping connect researchers to the materials they need most. And—unlike databases—librarians are human beings who can answer questions and make connections, turning up better results targeted to your needs. While the research process can be challenging and difficult, exploration of key sources in your university’s library will go a long way toward helping you research your thesis or dissertation with a minimal amount of stress.