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This page offers advice about choosing a research topic using reference books and collections of primary resources.

Reference books are the best place to start research in an unfamiliar topic. Some--encyclopedias, handbooks, subject dictionaries--provide quick and reliable information on a topic and its background.  Many reference books provide selective bibliographies: recommended sources for further reading.

Advice on choosing a research topic

There are a number of ways to chose a topic to write about--the two most common ways include starting with your own personal interests and being assigned a specific topic by your professor. Regardless of how it comes about, before you commit to a specific topic, we recommend that you:

  1. Read some overviews--maybe in a specialized encyclopedia, maybe in a monograph--about the subject;
  2. Determine that there are sufficient secondary materials;
  3. That there are primary documents available in a language you read that will help you with your thesis.

Another useful approach is to begin with available primary documents and frame your questions on the available resources!

A good place to begin looking for a topic is a textbook, a general history of the period, or a reference book. These will provide an overview of the subject, introduce issues or questions you can investigate, and provide lists, long or short, of recommended readings. The bibliographies in recent substantial books are especially useful.




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Sonia Pacheco
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Claire T. Carney Library
Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives
Room M07 (Map to my office)
285 Old Westport Road
Dartmouth, MA 02747