Finding Research Sources

When Your Research Runs Dry

Narrow Your Research Topic
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You’ve selected a great topic and you’ve found two fabulous sources. Research is going well, and then suddenly you hit a brick wall. You discover that the resources you’ve found seem to be the only ones available on your topic.

But your teacher requires five sources! What now?

Every researcher has faced this problem: the moment when the research suddenly runs dry. This is a serious problem if you are required to use a certain number of sources for a paper.

Sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible!


Finding Additional Resources

The first thing to do when your research seems to dry up is to check the bibliographies of the books you already have. Sometimes bibliographies are like gold mines of information.

You will probably discover that some of the sources used in the books are scholarly articles. Don’t be dismayed! Many articles are available online, and you may be able to find a specific article by doing a detailed Internet search.

Simply type the entire title of the article into a search engine and put quotations marks around the title. The search will either lead you to that article or it will direct you to another source (article) that quotes your original article. The other source might be just as helpful.

If you find a great article in a bibliography and it’s not available online, you can still get it with a little effort. Just go to a public library and show it to your librarian.

If it’s not available on site, the librarian will probably be able to order it from another library.

Your article will be sent through the mail, email, or fax, and should be available within a few days. This is just one more reason why it’s important to start your research early! Good research always takes longer than you expect.

If That Didn’t Work

Sometimes that approach isn’t feasible. Some sources, such as autobiographies and encyclopedias, don’t have bibliographies.

These are times when it may be necessary to get a little creative. There are a few occasions when you simply cannot find specific books or articles on your topic. Time for some lateral thinking!

Lateral thinking involves shifting your thinking pattern from the logical, sequential pattern to a pattern that shifts focus onto something less predictable. It’s simple, really.

For instance, if you are working on the biography of a not-so-famous person (which often leads to a limited number of sources), then you may need to abandon the typical step-by-step biography approach and focus on some relevant part of the person’s life in more detail.

If your person was a doctor or midwife in Victorian American, you could delve briefly into one of these topics:

  • Early medical tools
  • Sanitation issues
  • Misconceptions
  • The daily life of a typical doctor/midwife in Victorian America

If you devote a paragraph or section to one of these topics, you will find that numerous sources are available. If you decide to do this, make sure the topic fits into your thesis and doesn’t jump outside the parameters defined by your thesis sentence.

But what if you’re working on a paper for science class? The same technique will work. For instance, if your paper concerns a rare South American bug and you discover late in the game that there are only two books in the entire world that discuss this bug, you could devote a few paragraphs to “a bug’s life.”

Seriously! You could identify the predator of the bug and write a few paragraphs about the tactics the bug uses to avoid his predator. Or—you could focus on an environmental factor that affects the bug and write about the struggles the bug faces when he encounters these factors. Then one of your sources could concern the environmental factor (or the predator) and not concern the bug specifically.