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Last Updated: Nov 6, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Starting Research: Get the Big Picture

Once you have a basic idea of what your topic is, you'll need to get an idea of the big picture. What are the major issues or themes involved in your topic? What are the key terms, names and dates associated with it?

Reference sources are a great way to begin your search. They'll show you which sources experts recommend and give you ideas for specific areas of the topic you may want to research. Reference sources are often broad and general, so it's best to start here and narrow your topic down as you progress.

Also see the "Reference" tab at the top of this guide for more costume history & fashion-specific resources.


Evaluating Sources

The  CRAP Test


  • How recent is the information?
  • Can you locate a date for when the resource was written/created/updated?
  • Based on your topic, is it current enough?
  • Why might the date matter for your topic?



  • What kind of information is included in the resource?
  • Is content of the resource primarily opinion? 
  • Is is balanced or biased?
  • Is there a Bibliography? In other words, does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations? 



  • Can you determine who is the creator or author?
  • What are the credentials (education, affiliation, expertise?)
  • Is the publisher or sponsor reputable?
  • Are they reputable?
  • What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
  • Are there advertisements on the website?


Purpose/Point of View 

  • What's the intent of the article? (to persuade you, to sell you something?)
  • For web resources, what is the domain? (.com .edu, .gov?) How might this influence the purpose or point of view?
  • For web resources, are there ads on the webpage? How do they related to the topic of the web resource? (for example an ad for ammunition next to an article on firearm legislation or against gun control)
  • Is the author presenting fact or opinion?


Adapted from Dominican University

Research Help @ the Pratt Libraries

Illustration via Pratt Libraries Fashion Plate Collection on Flickr

This guide offers research strategies and resources that will help you develop research skills. Learn how to come up with search terms, find books and articles, cite sources, avoid plagiarism and more!


    Brainstorming Search Terms


    Building a bank of keywords will make the rest of your research much simpler.

    1. Gather background information, which will give you some key words to start with, and make your research a little easier.

    2. Brainstorm other search terms: think of synonyms, or more technical terms, or official language vs. colloquial language

    3. Think of some narrower search terms to get even more specific and some broader words in case you aren't finding much.

    4. Think about what ideas and terms are related to your subject that might also be helpful.


    Even when you've got a good keyword bank started, keep adding to it!

    If you find a good article or book, look at the data record to see what other terms and subjects are used to describe it.

    Remember that with library resources especially, it pays to search smart:

    use AND in between search terms to group them together

    use OR for more results

    use NOT if you want to exempt a word from your results

    use quotation marks "_" to isolate phrases

    use the wildcard * to get all versions of a word


    Combining Search Terms

    Research is like a treasure hunt or solving a mystery.

    We have to try to combine the right terms in the right place to find the information we need.

    How should you combine search terms to find what you are looking for?

    Broad Search

    Search for information using the single most important term related to your topic. Use this type of search when looking for basic background information.

    Specific Search

    Search for information by combining key concepts using the words you have brainstormed. Each concept/word should be separated by the word "AND". Use this kind of search when looking for specific evidence related to your claim/thesis.

    Getting Too Many Irrelevant Results?

    Add more search terms for narrower results.

    Getting Too Few Relevant Results?

    Change, switch out, or remove some search terms for more accurate or broader results.

    Get Research Help

    Librarians at Pratt want to help you with your research :)  Here's how to contact us: 

    • Chat-w/-A-Librarian
      Chat online with a librarian (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).
    • Ask-A-Librarian
      Call, email, or visit our Reference Desk :)

      Brooklyn: (718) 636-3704

      Manhattan: (212) 647-7539


      Location: The Reference Desk is on the 1st Floor of the Brooklyn Library.

    The Research Process

    The Research Process
    by Bill McMillin - Last Updated Nov 5, 2012
    The basics of researching and refining a topic.
    116 views this year

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    -Location: Brookln campus, North Hall, Floor 1

    -Click here for WTC hours & help offerings

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