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Research approaches in the humanities, social sciences, or sciences

Researching in the Humanities

The fields in the Humanities discipline generally include the visual and performing arts, philosophy, literature, religion, history, languages, art history, and classics.  Although research methods differ among the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and the Sciences, any research project in any discipline starts with curiosity and a hypothesis.  Often research topics are interdisciplinary and may include multiple subject areas and methods from more than just one discipline.

When beginning a research project in the humanities, you must develop a deep knowledge base in a subject area, choose original sources to examine, locate and evaluate sources that also explore your areas of interest, and then come to your own original conclusions.

Libraries can help you find the material you need to get started.  The research guides listed on the right are created by WUSTL Subject Librarians.  Subject Librarians have expertise in both searching techniques and academic fields, and their online guides suggest resources for the different phases of the research process:

1) Use background sources to establish your knowledge base.  These could be subject encyclopedias, key works in a field, bibliographies, etc.
2) Select original sources, commonly referred to as primary sources, for your analysis.  Primary sources are simply original works, e.g., novels, photographs, diaries, correspondence, advertisements, eyewitness accounts.
3) Find articles, reviews, and books that analyze primary sources.  These are known as secondary sources.

Then, synthesize all this information with your own thinking and draw your original conclusions, thus creating new research in the field.

Recommended Research Guides