Still having trouble finding sources?
Yes, I know. You went to the library, and someone checked out
every book on your author. Yes, you still need secondary sources.
Here's how to solve the problem.
Banned sources: Below is a list of sources you may not use as support
for your paper. That doesn't mean you can't read them; it just means
that using them as sources in your essay is likely to weaken your argument.
Use journals instead of books. To find them, look up your author
or work in the MLA database in Melvyl. If you're unsure of how that
works, see the library's help page or a librarian. Click
here for the database page.
Explore a related scientific issue instead of focusing exclusively on your
author. For example, if you plan to write about "Schwarzchild
Radius," why not find out exactly what it is? The library has many
science reference books, and the Online
Reference Page is a good place to start. Warning! Avoid any
use of banned reference sources (see below)!
Use literary criticism for help with methodolgy and history, rather than
for criticism on your particular author. For instance, Metamorphoses
of Science Fiction by Darvo Sirkin, now on reserve in RBR, provides
both an excellent history of science fiction and a useful guide to the
terms and ideas used for science fiction criticism. Compare how he
describes a work of science fiction with the work you chose, or borrow
one of his ideas or terms for use in your own criticism. Be sure
to cite him (or anyone else) properly.
Persist and think. I have heard many students say, "I went to the
library and there's nothing there" when in fact, there was an enormous
amount of useful material available. Try other avenues; try another
database; try another search term; broaden your search or narrow it; talk
to a librarian, a friend, or a TA. Keep thinking about new angles
or approaches, and you'll find something. Searching for sources is
never mechanical, and often the quickest approach is the dullest.
Just going to Pegasus and typing in your author's name is the least interesting
thing you can do--think hard about what you want to say, then find sources
who will help you say it.
Final words of advice. Start early, and talk to your TA, your
librarian, and your friends. Just putting your research problem into
words can often be helpful, and the answer is often staring you in the
face. Bounce your ideas off someone else, and it may come to you.
If all else fails, send me an email, and I'll try to help you if I can.
The American Heritage Dictionary. The single most boring way
to begin a paper is to take some term, look it up in the dictionary, and
write, "The American Heritage Dictionary defines X as..."
This opening is boring and pointless--papers that begin this way never
get out of the B- range. This rule goes for all other dictionaries, too,
but the most frequent offender is the American Heritage. Your
words are your own--if you need to define one, define it yourself.
Cliff's Notes. Grow up! You're in college now; it's time to
read real criticism.
The Encarta Encyclopedia. Another easy-way-out choice.
Microsoft bought an out-of-date encyclopedia, scanned it, added a bunch
of pictures, and called it Encarta. It is now the bane of
every teacher's existence, a ready-to-go source of watered-down, inaccurate
information and uncredited photographs. If you want to use an encyclopedia,
use the Encyclopedia Britannica, and use it sparingly.
Anonymous Web Sites and Personal Pages. My least favorite
question is "How do you cite a source on the web?" with the follow-up question
"What if it doesn't have an author?" All standard writing handbooks
can answer the first question; dust it off and look it up. The "what
if" of the second question says it all--you must know the author, or authority,
of the web page you plan to cite, or you may not cite it as a reliable
source. Likewise, if the author of a particular page has no credentials,
don't use the page! Would you use medical information that came from
somebody's page? Be careful with the Web--it's a wild, uncontrolled
medium, and evaluating the information you find there can be tricky.