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Music: Doing Research in Music

Getting Started

The three most important things to consider as you start a research project: 

1. What does the assignment ask you to do?

  • Look at all the instructions (not just the due date)
  • Determine how much time you'll need to be successful, and create a rough timeline for yourself
  • Choose a preliminary topic and do some basic reading in Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

2. What do you want to find out? 

  • Your thesis statement (what you're ultimately hoping to 'prove' or 'expose' in your paper) will come from a research question. 
  • Create a preliminary research question, and write it down!
  • Make sure your question is answerable within the parameters of the assignment guidelines.

3. What do you already know, and what do you need to learn? 

  • Think about what you expect to find
  • Create some supporting questions for your topic
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. We love it when you ask questions! 

Beginning Research - Encyclopedias/Dictionaries

When you've determined your research focus

From the basic reading you've done so far, create a small list of keywords, or search terms, that you'd like to use to continue your search. You can use them with these tools. 

Basic Search tips

AND, NOT (in capital letters)

AND = A + B
NOT = A - B. 

If you were looking for information about coloratura, but only coloratura in the context of Verdi's operas, you could try: Coloratura AND opera AND Verdi

If you were looking for information about coloratura, but did not want to include information about coloratura in Verdi operas, you could try this: Coloratura NOT Verdi

* [shift +8] at the end of a word or word fragment, for all possible endings

Music* = music, musical, musician, musicians, musicality, musicals,... 

Use "quotation marks" for an exact phrase. But use with caution!

When searching for an multi-word phrase that you want to see exactly as you've typed it, put quotes around it. However, this will mean that any typos might result in a failed search.

"Maria Callas" AND Aida = 729 results

"Maria Calls" AND Aida = 3 results 

Things to keep in mind when doing searches:

Varied spelling; translations and translated terms; using limits (usually found on the left of your search results); keeping track of what you're searching to avoid duplication

Need Help? Ask for it. Don't struggle with anything for more than 5-10 minutes. If something isn't working, ask us! 

Did Katherine visit your class this semester? Click below for more specific help: 

MUSC 1004 - Music History 1
MUSC 3034 - Medieval Music History
MUSC 3050/7050 - Research Methods

Katherine J. Penner

Katherine Penner's picture
Katherine Penner
t: 204-474-7911

Research resource basics

Here's some information about some resources you may not have a lot of experience with: 

Encyclopedias / Encyclopedic Dictionaries

Great place to get started with basic information on a research topic. Use the bibliographies of each entry to move you further!

Articles are in Journals, Journals are found in Databases. 

Articles = very specific research on a topic

Journals = contain a broad spectrum of articles within a research area

Databases = websites that hold a variety of journals on the same subject 


Like a book, but online! Ebooks found in our collection are of the same quality as those found on the shelves. 

Citation Managers

Tools like Mendeley, Zotero, and Readcube can help you in managing the many sources you'll be working with. Here's a guide on reference managers, and if you want more training on using one, or simply want to talk about why you would use one, please make an appointment with me!