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Jewish Studies Research Guide

How to Start?

The start of any research is always a question or problem one wishes (or needs to) answer or find a solution to. In many cases, there is a path one has to take from a broadly described subject to a specific question. The subject can be the topic of the class one takes, an era, geographical region, event, person's life, idea, impression, or a phenomenon. In order to narrow down the subject and develop a research question, two important factors must be considered: available sources and personal interest. Without either of these two, conducting a research becomes unnecessarily more challenging and significantly less fulfilling.

Questions that can help lead the way from the broader subject to the specific research question are, for example: what do I know about this era/geographical region/event/person's life/an idea/phenomenon? How can I find out more? Why is it interesting to me? Why do I think it is important to explore more about this subject?

Warning: sometimes, while reading available sources, the originally set research question might change. Researchers should not be discouraged by the discovery that the original research question seems less exciting than a new one.

Next Steps

One begins a research project either based on previous knowledge of the subject, having read various sources on it, or just being intrigued by a particular subject, having read or heard about it very little. Reading more can deepen one’s interest or urge one to turn to another research subject. 

Beginning a research project on a subject you already studied or read about:

As a first step, summarize what you already know and list your primary and secondary sources. This list will serve you as your primary annotated bibliography. The entries on secondary sources should include the date of the listed sources’ creation (so you know to look for newer, more updated resources), the questions and problems the sources address and emphasize and those they leave unanswered, and the primary sources they rely on to make their arguments. The entries on primary sources, especially those you can access, should similarly describe the circumstances of their creation and their content. If you can, try to establish connections between the sources you already saw and keep thinking about the dialogue between them as you read on.


Beginning a research project with little prior knowledge of the subject:

Knowing the chronological and geographical boundaries of the research and perhaps names of specific persons and/or events is a good place to start an inquiry. As a next step, attain information from general reference works also known as tertiary sources, such as dictionaries and lexicons. This guide lists some of them. Compile a subject-related vocabulary for your research. These words can help you search the catalog for additional resources. For example, if you are studying the life of a Jewish athlete, list all the words you think characterize your knowledge about this person: dates of birth and death, sport they competed in, city where they lived, events they participated in, etc. If you are using social media, this practice will be familiar, because it parallels tagging. Consult the Library of Congress Subject Headings to formulate your terminology. Use your list to search the Emory Library Catalog using the search for “subject,” “keyword,” “creation date,” etc. Keep adding to and removing from your list of subject headings as you read on. You may want to search for articles, including book reviews, accessing various databases or specific journals.

Review articles and bibliographical indexes

You can gain access and learn how scholars view the available literature on the subject you study by reading bibliographic review articles. They are informative of how researchers approach the questions that arise through the discussions on the subject of your interest. Thematic bibliographies map the scholarship on the given subject.

Using your readings as a resource to discover additional sources

Academic and some non-academic authors document their works by providing footnotes and bibliographies as part of their publications. These notes help the reader follow how the researcher reached their conclusions and based on what information they made their arguments. Use this feature of academic writing not only when compiling your annotated bibliography, but also when adding to your sources. Check what source the authors you read had consulted and if you can use those sources for your work, maybe to interrogate them for other purposes.

Also, academic authors often dedicate several works to a subject or related subjects, which can help your research. Sometimes they return to a subject they worked on because a new source, a new method, or just the passing of time led them back to that topic and maybe revise their previous conclusions. Check the catalog to see if the authors you consulted have written something more recent on the subject you research.

Call numbers can also help you discover additional sources relevant to your research. Because Library of Congress call numbers are subject- and creator-based, just by looking at the shelf where your source is located can lead you to additional, relevant sources. Sometimes, you may find the best resource when applying the methods of the times before the introduction of online catalogs: by standing in front of the bookshelf browsing books.

Beyond the Emory collection

Beyond the physical collection, Emory Libraries offer access to a broad variety of databases and other online and electronic sources.

Visit OCLC to check the availability of sources you would like to access but are unavailable at Emory. By using the Interlibrary Loan or the Electronic Documentary Delivery services, you can consult sources from all over the United State.

Compiling a bibliography

Documenting the sources you consult during the research in the form of an extended or annotated bibliography will help you finalize the paper and add the bibliography (if it is a requirement of the class). During the research phase, however, it helps organize the information you gathered and through your questions and notes to each and every entry on your list, you will organically develop the question you will address in your paper. Ensure you check the assignment's requirement of citation style and that you format your paper and references accordingly. Use the catalog's "cite" feature as a help.