Scanning: Feed yourself with constant information gathering. Good sources are art magazines, discipline journals, museum blogs, and non-fiction. Planning: Focus on a specific topic, and create a plan of action. Decide what databases you'll use, what keywords might be helpful, seek out research guides. Digging: Don't find what you want immediately? That's okay. Use keywords found in closely related articles or books. Chase citations. Try alternative tools. Digesting: Take time to make sure you understand what you've found. Decide if you need to keep researching. Make notes on articles, draw sketches to help you understand concepts.

Research shouldn't be relegated to special projects. In order to feed your studio practice or academic life, you should always be looking intently at the world around you. Sometimes, you'll need to delve deeply into a topic for a presentation, a grant application, or a scholarly paper. This handout will introduce you to college level research with the tools available at CSUSB.


As a student, you're expected to be building your repertoire of studio and research questions. Whether you're interested in science, perception, or narratives, you should be creating a broad knowledge base around the subjects that interest you. Get in the habit now of seeking out information on exhibitions, artists, and unrelated subjects like science, sociology, history.

Good sources:


  • October
  • Parkett
  • Modern Painters
  • ArtForum


Literature and Non-fiction

Tools to track your interests

Sketch book: Go old school! Use an actual pen and real paper to take notes. Glue in photocopies of interesting art work.

Evernote: If you want a more tech-based approach to note-taking on the go, Evernote is for you. You can download it for several different devices or simply access it on the web. Take image, audio, and text notes. They're all saved to an account on the web that you can access from anywhere.

Social Bookmarking:Don't want something so serious? Try saving images in Pinterest. Bookmark interesting articles with Delicious. Use twitter to remind yourself and your friends of what is interesting.

Whatever way you go about it, tracking what you're interested in is a good idea. It can save yourself a lot of time when you have an assignment. You're sure to have several good topics saved away. It's also a really good habit that helps you keep up-to-date in your field.


So, you've found something that you want to investigate further. What now? It's important that you have a plan.

Assignments and Questions

First things first. Get a good idea of what exactly you're researching. If you have an informal information need, it's still a good idea to be clear about what exactly you want to get out of your work. If you have an assignment, get it out and examine it closely.

Deliverables: What will the tangible results of your work be? How long and what form should it take?

Sources: What types of sources will you need? Try to gather more sources than you will actually need for the final project. Think about locating different types of sources depending on the topic–what do you need? Articles, letters, photographs, video documentaries? Try to set goals for collecting these sources.

Exact request: Make sure to highlight specific outcomes or requirements that you have for yourself or that your professor has set out for you. This might be gathering specific types of sources or using certain citation styles.


Once you've decided where you need to search. Think about the subject you're researching. Create a list of keywords either on paper or in your head.

  • Try thinking of narrower and broader terms.
  • Think of synonyms for your main terms.
  • Think about terms you want to exclude.

Ex: Are we really in danger of a hostile robot takeover?
Keywords: robots, android, artificial intelligence, risks, computer control

You're focused, you have a topic, you have a plan. All that's left now is to do the footwork. Research can be discouraging, especially when you're looking into a topic that's outside your comfort zone. The following are a few tips for successful researching.

Research Guides

Unfamiliar with the subject you're interested in? Try taking a peek into the field through the eyes of someone who understands it. Research guides will give you a road map to conducting research in a particular subject.

Use the Pfau Library's guides,
or use the global Library Guide community research guides.

Research guides will help you find both tools and sources to help you with your research questions. Remember that tools, like Wilson Art Index or the Library Catalog, are what help you find sources, like articles or documentaries. Often tools will collect very different types of sources, so you may need to use more than one type of tool during your research process.


Selecting Databases

Choose where you want to search wisely.
Try using the Pfau Library's Databases by subject page to choose where you want to begin your search.

Advanced Searching

Getting too many hits? Not enough? Off-topic? Maybe using the Google-style box search just isn't cutting it.

Operator Example What the search finds
AND America AND abstraction Items that have both "America" and "abstraction." You'll get fewer results, but they should be more closely related.
OR Action painting OR abstract expressionism Any item that has either "action painting" or "abstract expressionism." You should get more results.
NOT Expressionism NOT German Items that have "expressionism" but don't mention "Germany." Use this when you want to exclude common closely related topics.
WITH, NEAR, ADJ Censorship WITH Art The WITH will tell the search engine to look for both words to appear close together. NEAR and ADJ work very similarly to WITH.
(nesting) (abstract OR non-objective) AND feminism This search will look for "abstract AND feminism" and "non-objective and feminism."
* art* Using the asterisk returns all item that have words starting with "art": artistic, artist, artfully, etc.
! wom!n Using the ! tells the computer to look for words with different letters where the ! is placed. This search would return women and woman.

No doubt, you've seen a link to something called "advanced search" on any number of search engine pages. An advanced search will allow you to pinpoint the exact kind of search you want to run. Generally, advanced searching uses the principals of Boolean searching. Boolean searching is simply a way of using symbols or words to focus or broaden your search.

Remember that most advanced search options will allow you to create a search that uses Boolean searching even if it doesn't use the exact structure seen above.

In search databases, you can usually select specific fields to search. For example, you could limit a search to just the subject or title.

Multiplying your search results

Citation tracking
Even if your searches are returning lots of results, they may not be exactly what you're looking for. If they are closely related, you might trying citation tracking. This means, you look at an article or book's citations to see if that item cited an article that might be more appropriate for you. Then you can search directly for the new item using the citation.

You can try Pfau Library's citation finder to help you pinpoint those articles.

Refining vocabulary
Use your results to refine your vocabulary. When you open the record for a book or an article, you'll usually see a list of subject terms, keywords, or tags. If these don't match the words you're using, try altering your search. Repeat the process until your results are very close to what you want to find.


Try not to get carried away with your searching. It's important to take time out to understand and digest what you're finding. If you're just piling up articles and citations, it won't do you much good.

Evaluate what you've found

  • Are your sources credible?
  • Are they written at an appropriate level?
  • Is the author biased?
  • Are they out of date?

  • Do your results answer your original research question?
  • Has your question shifted during your search?
  • Do you need to focus your research to fill in gaps?

At this point, you may need to go back to another stage of the research process.

Keep track of where you've been

Don't forget to leave a trace of the research you've done. Whether this means making notes in your sketch book or using technology, find a method that works for you.

It's a good idea to write down the citation for an article or book and then summarize it in your own words. This will not only help you to determine whether the article was helpful, it will also help you understand what you just read.

Some free helpful tools for tracking bibliographies or managing citations are:

If you ever feel frustrated, remember that there are plenty of people to help you. Don't ever be afraid to contact the VRC, a librarian or an archivist with questions you might have.

Happy Researching!