Library Research Guide – Write

Library Research Guide – Write

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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.

Keyword Searching

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.

Combining keywords

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”.

Boolean operators

You can also add Boolean operators to include or exclude certain keywords. The Boolean operators are:

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT

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 links 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

Essay Writing

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

The following books are available in the library:

  • A Short Guide to Writing About Art
  • How To Write Art History
  • A Survival Guide for Art History Students
  • Our Beautiful, Dry, and Distant Texts
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’:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. 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

There are software applications that will help you do this such as Mendeley and Zotero , which are all free to use. Learning one of these now will help you when you go onto further study.

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.

Citation Style

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

The School has prepared a Quick Guide to Referencing for you to help you with the style.

Referencing FAQs

Why do I need to reference my sources?

The work you produce does not occur in a vacuum – you will draw upon other people’s work. As Isaac Newton put it, you will be “standing on the shoulders of giants” (Newton, Isaac, Letter to Robert Hooke 1675, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Accordingly, you need to acknowledge those other people through your referencing.

Doing this will ensure you don’t accidentally plagiarise other people’s work, that you quote them accurately, and that you show how your ideas and work stand in relation to theirs. It will also help you remember where you found other ideas and work and show your teachers how they influenced you, as well as the extent of your research.

What’s the difference between a bibliography and a reference list?

A bibliography contains not only the references you cite in your assignment but also the sources you read in preparation for the assignment. A reference list contains only the sources you cite in your assignment. Your lecturers will sometimes ask for a bibliography rather than a reference list (and sometimes both) so that they can see what sources have influenced your thinking.

Why do I need both a footnote and a reference list?

A footnote shows exactly where you have used a reference in your work. A reference list brings them together so they are easy to scan.

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference?

Citation and reference tend to be used interchangeably, however, there is a subtle difference between them. Citing is the act of referring to a source and a citation may refer to one or more references. Your footnote will therefore include all of the references referred to in a single sentence or paragraph. Your reference list or bibliography will list these sources separately alphabetically.

I have two sources by the same author – how do I list them?

When you have two or more references by the same author, list them alphabetically by title.

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.

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