Research your topic
You have an assignment and you’re about to start your research. How do you go about this? To start with, you’ll need to choose a topic, then analyse it to formulate search phrases that you can then use to search online catalogues, databases and resources.
Begin by identifying keywords included (highlighted in red in the example above) such as the nouns, verbs and adjectives in your assignment topic – these will form the basis of your keyword search. Ignore verbs such as analyse, compare or contrast as this is what the assignment asks you to do. See if there are any natural or logical groupings. In the example opposite, the groupings are:
- Formalism, Roger Fry, Clement Greenberg
- Early-mid twentieth century (1900-1960)
- Examples of abstract art
Frequently keywords will be very generic and you will need to combine them with other keywords to formulate a search phrase. Bear in mind that you won’t necessarily include the keywords in your search terms, e.g. the date keywords may be excluded and just held in mind when searching.
These keywords can be geographic, temporal and material or refer to format. For example, you may be writing an assignment on symbolism in Christian art. Immediately you have three words for a search phrase:
- “Symbolism”, “Christian”, “Art”
To this, you can add a temporal keyword or phrase: medieval, Byzantine, Renaissance, or 4th century, 19th century, etc.
Tip: Sometimes it’s better to omit the temporal keywords if it refers to a century or date range. Just bear it in mind when searching trhough results.
You can also add a geographic keyword: European, Spanish, Celtic.
You may be interested in particular materials: stone, wood, oils.
You might choose to focus on a particular type of art (format): painting, sculpture, architecture.
You could also add a specific type of symbol: fish, crucifix or cross, lamb.
There are ways of combining these that will be more effective than if you just type all of them into a search box on Google Scholar, Trove, or one of the catalogues or databases.
For example, to search for Christian art, place the phrase in double quotation marks as follows: “Christian art”. This tells the search engine that you want that kept as a phrase. Otherwise it will look for all occurrences of the word “Christian” and all occurrences of the word “art”.
You can also add Boolean operators to include or exclude certain keywords. The Boolean operators are:
Capitalising these words tells the search engine that these are Boolean operators, otherwise it ignores them.
AND tells the search engine to include only documents that include the words both before and after the AND.
OR is used when you are using synonyms in your search phrase, for example Catholic can be used as a synonym for Christian. Your search phrase would then include Christian OR Catholic.
Tip: If using OR, bracket your search phrase: (Christian OR Catholic).
NOT before a word or phrase tells the search engine to omit any documents with any occurrence of that word or phrase. In Google Scholar (and Google), the AND is assumed and can therefore be omitted. The NOT is replaced by a minus sign and must immediately precede the word without any spaces. As an example, you could then use the search phrase: Symbolism AND “Christian art” AND fish NOT lamb The Google equivalent would be: Symbolism “Christian art” fish -lamb
Glossaries of art terms
Knowing the right term to use is a large part of successful searching . These glossaries will help you find the right term (click on the logos to access them).
In addition to the above glossaries, there are four more specialised thesauri from the Getty Institute (click on the logos to access them).
Writing your assignment
The Department of Art History and Theory at the Adelaide Central School of Art has produced an Essay Writing Guide that you should refer to before you begin writing your assignment.
There are additional resources that will assist you in writing your assignments. See below for books held in the library that will help you with your writing.
The School’s Student Liaison can also provide assistance with writing – please ask at Administration.
Books on Writing
Grammar and speliing
To assist you in your writing, you could use a grammar and spelling checker. MS Word (part of MS Office) has in-built spelling and grammar checkers. However, if you do not use MS Word, then there is Grammar Check, a free-to-use online grammar and spelling checker.
George Orwell's Rules of Writing
Also bear in mind George Orwell’s six rules of writing from his essay ‘Politics and the English language’:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell, George. 1946. Politics and the English language. Horizon 13/76, pp 252–265.
The essay can be downloaded from the University of Adelaide’s e-books collection.
Cite your sources
Referencing is a necessary part of your assignments (see the school’s Essay Writing Guide). It can become a very time consuming and frustrating task if left to the end of the assignment to get your referencing in order.
One way to mitigate this problem is to record the details required to make the reference of each resource (book, article, image, web page, etc.) as it is used, so that they are available when putting together your reference list.
The easiest way to do this is to create the reference and bibliography as the resource is used (see the Essay Writing Guide for the referencing and bibliographic style used by the school). In this manner only a small amount of effort is required at the end of the assignment to check and verify the formatting is correct.
When using online resources, check to see if there is a “cite” or “cite this” link as these may provide you with a pre-made reference for the material, which can be copied into a note for later use or directly into the assignment. You will still need to compare against the examples in the Essay Writing Guide and correct as necessary to ensure that the format is correct and that it is a valid reference.
Manage Your References
Anatomy of a Reference
The basic anatomy of a reference is Author, Title, Publication, Date, [Web address], [Date accessed], as set out below. Web address and Date accessed are only required for web references. For further details, please refer to the School’s Quick Guide to Referencing.
The School uses the citation style from the Oxford Art Journal, which is based on New Hart’s Rules. The School’s Essay Writing Guide sets out our citation style in detail. There are also two copies of New Hart’s Rules in the High Demand section if you need more help.
Note: Publisher is optional in New Hart’s Rules, however, it is mandatory in our style.
Quick Referencing Guide & FAQs
Library Research Guide
This Guide will help you locate information for your assignments, provide some assistance in writing your assignments, and provide links to useful online resources and tools. There is also a section on practice-led research for third-year and Honours students.