Finding Sources for Difficult Topics

        Most first-year writers automatically search for sources about their primary source.  Looking only for scholarship on Casablanca or The Third Man leaves out many great sources who could improve the paper.  Remember how much Walker's essay contributed to our ability to understand how Rick and Holly (and maybe Harry?) worked when viewed from a film noir perspective.  You can go further down that road by reading about how women in film noir typically work (i.e., Ilsa and Anna), or searching for psychological or ethical studies about people making difficult decisions with deceptive evidence.  Remember that Walker's third hero type was "paranoid"--is there evidence of wide-spread, at least partly unreasonable fear in either movie?  Or is it a case of "even paranoids can have real enemies?  Finally, there are some good, book-length sources on reserve for this section at the Goucher Library, and more are available through the printed book catalog.  Don't neglect this important collection of printed sources.

        Below are some tips to help you move from a pretty good source to better sources, or from no sources to some acceptable sources.

1)  Remember the strength of using your sources' sources.  Thus, if you've found only one article or book so far, look to its sources and see some of those might be even better for your purposes.  You only need one to make this paper work if you use it creatively.  Find what you can and show me what you've got.

2)  Scholarly reviews are sources, too.  The key test is to see whether they are published in either a scholarly or popular-scholarly journal.  In either case, you can use it.  The author will have been chosen on the strength of her/his scholarship in the field the book was published in, and the review will be edited for signs of obvious bias.  In scholarly journals, the reviewer's college or university will indicate her/his source of authority, and you can do an "Author" search in the appropriate bibliographic search engine to determine what else s/he has written, which may turn up sources, as well.  In popular-scholarly journals, the reviewer usually is given a short biographical note indicating a university position s/he holds or a recent book-length study s/he has written, as evidence of her/his authority.  The review also may refer to other, recent books on the same topic, perhaps arguing that they did a better job of explaining things.  If so, you have another source. 

3)  Book authors get to write books by writing articles.  For every book on the shelves, there are many articles by that same author on various aspects of the topic that eventually turned into the book.  Even the best researchers who limit themselves to only topic or keyword searchers may miss articles relevant to the topic, but if you know that "Sigmund Freud wrote a big book about dream analysis," you also know that he wrote articles about it and you can search for them quickly using an "Author" search on his name.

4)  If you have a popular-scholarly article, or even a popular article based on scholarship (e.g., articles in "newspapers of record," such as the New York Times or Washington Post), you can use the scholars your article refers to in an "Author" search to find their scholarly work on the topic.  After all, that's how the journalist who wrote the popular-scholarly or popular press article found them in the first place.  Note that the newspaper articles are unacceptable for this paper, but their sources' scholarship certainly would be!

5)  Your professors often know of influential articles or book-length works that, for one reason or another, you have been unable to find.  As a last resort, go to a professor who teaches in that field and ask for assistance.  Don't ask for the articles or books themselves unless they're offered to you.  You don't want the instructors to think you want them to do your work for you.  But asking for the name of a researcher to seek out is perfectly legitimate and it's a great way to begin an intellectual relationship with people whose relationship to you may be extremely important to your success in the next three years.

6)  If you have been working alone in your bibliographic searching and haven't found anything, remember that  the librarians at the Goucher Library are your allies.  Don't be afraid to seek expert assistance--they help faculty researchers, too.  They understand how the bibliographers store and retrieve data, and their search strategies are the most likely to reveal whether there really is anything out there or not.