COLWRIT R4B: Writing About War

What's here ?

These notes contain additional suggestions about how you might proceed to best use the resources outlined in this class guide.  They presume familiarity with the general concepts and information addressed in the other tabbed pages of the guide.

A research trajectory

  • Topic: Choose a topic based on your interest and what you've learned in class. Sometimes it helps to do some preliminary searching in a database to see what others are writing about if you're undecided or unsure about your choice.

    you may want to consider whether your focus lends itself to finding primary sources about it (contemporaneous news or magazine coverage, interviews with participants or observers, government reports, etc.).
  • Isolate resources likely to be of use for your focus (see suggested resources section of this page)

    • Search selected resources to see if others have written about your topic, or a related one (search tips section, below)

    • Select several promising results to examine closely, both for their own presentation of facts and to identify possible primary sources you might seek out.

      Remember to note any result's information you might need if you end up citing it.

  • Secondary & Primary Sources

    • Secondary sources:  Generally the place to start to gather background on a topic, hone in on a specific focus, or see others analysis of events. Can involve finding a book or an article on your topic -- sometimes something as basic as an encyclopedia entry is a good jumping off  place.

      notes: secondary sources will familiarize you with names of specific people or agencies involved, issues at stake, important dates and events, etc.  This, in turn, will help you searching for primary sources.

      Secondary sources often have bibliographies that document the materials consulted -- they may identify materials you'd like to examine (including primary sources).

    • Primary sources:  Often are a second step in the search process -- having learned details from secondary sources that alert you to the existence of specific primary source material.  In the case of contemporaneous news or magazine literature, identifying a topic and when it was news may be all that you need to get started. 


Suggested resources


    • Find books on your topic
    • Find periodicals you've identified as having article content on your topic
    • Find primary sources you've identified (see search tips section, below)

  • SUBJECT article databases: Identify article and essay content on your topic.

    • History, Media Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Psychology, etc.

  • GENERAL article databases: Check out the interdisciplinary databases.

    • Often have both popular sources (magazine & news) as well scholarly
  • Databases by type

    • News (some link to article content, some link to news sites, some are international in scope):

      Consider... Access World News, Historical Newspapers (ProQuest) [pre 2003], ProQuest Newspapers [to present], LexisNexis,, World News Connection...

    • Government information (federal & foreign):  You might consider chatting with a government document specialist (see Help tab) for a recommendation regarding your specific topic.

    • Encyclopedias & almanacs:  Do you need some background information to get started?

      Entries identify key topics and issues.  Awareness of these are helpul when searching other resources. Even Wikipedia (though not a scholarly source and publically open to contributions) often provides bibliographic footnotes -- which, themselves, can identify credible sources published in newspapers, books in the library collections, etc. 

    • Archival Collections & Primary Source Databases: Most are not related to your time period or topical focus -- or they are also listed in the news or government categories. A few resources listed, like , In the first Person..., could be useful depending on your topic.

Search tips

  • Catalog searching:

    • Materials about a topic -
      Search 2 or 3 terms representing key concepts of your focus.

      • Try different combinations of terms
      • Try synonyms and related terms.

    • Subject search -
      Learn the official subject terms related to your search focus (people, time period, place, topical, etc.) and use them to find other materials on your topic.

      • to figure out official subject terms, first find relevant results (as noted above), and then review the subject terms assigned to them

      • search again, including official subject terms discovered

        example:  iraq war 2003 and social conditions
                     iraq war 2003 and motion pictures

    • Primary sources -
      Try searching with subject terms whose inclusion may indicate primary source materials

      • correspondence
      • interviews
      • personal narratives
      • sources

        example:  iraq war 2003 and sources

    • Limit by date (materials published during a certain time; advanced search menu)
    • Sort results (arrange by date of publication; once you have result set)
    • Author search

      • person's name - finds books by, interviews with, correspondence...
      • organization's name - finds materials by agency, government body...

    • Limit by language (modify search to limit to English)
  • Tips for searching databases
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Last Update: September 21, 2011 11:16