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Forming your topic


In Writing about Art Henry Sayre 

Even though these types of writing look quite different from each other, the research process will be much the same for all of them.  If you need to study a single work or group of works, you will need to familiarize yourself with those works by studying scores and recordings of them.  For guidance on searching for scores and recordings, see the Searching page in this guide.

If you are engaging in historical or critical writing, you will also need to read studies on your topic, to both learn the background of your topic and to stimulate your thinking.  Reading tertiary sources (such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a Wikipedia article) is a good way to start gathering background information on a topic. Tertiary sources also should lead to secondary sources (scholarly articles and books). See the Recommended Resources in this guide for recommended tertiary sources; see the Searching page for guidance on finding secondary sources in the library's collections and in journals.

You can also browse through scholarly journals in art when looking for a topic. This will help you see the current scholarly conversations, models of good research, refine your topic, and find sources that you can use in your project. 

As you study these sources, be sure to note:

  • Topics that interest you and/or intersect with what you are learning in class; engaging with a topic is a key to success. 
  • Keywords and subject terms for main concepts; using these terms will help you find information more effectively in the databases or websites
  • authors disagree (usually in the introduction) or areas for more research (usually at the end of an article); these are subjects you can explore. 
  • Sources in the text and the reference section that may be useful to you.
  • The names of key authors so you can find more of their works; key authors are those names you may observe several times.