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Conducting Research

Tips from your Washington University librarians on locating, evaluating, and citing sources used in your research.

Finding in-depth/historical information

Once you have collected some general background information related to your research idea using encyclopedias and other reference sources, you should begin searching the Classic Catalog for related books. 

Books are a great resource for a more in-depth look at your research idea.  They may also provide more specific information relating to your subject such as, historical perspectives, collections of previously completed writings/research, and/or differing opinions on the subject matter.

To find the locations and call numbers of over four million books (as well as hundreds of video, audio, map, and rare titles) owned by the Washington WashU Libraries, use the Classic Catalog.

Search savvy tip

If you are having problems finding information related to your research, consider broadening or focusing your idea by applying the strategies found in Step 1: Exploring an idea.

What are these numbers on the book spine?

You might be familiar with the Dewey Decimal Classification from grade school or the public library.  At WUSTL, and at many academic libraries in the United States, we use an organization system developed by the Library of Congress.  This system works to organize materials by subject. 


  • Since we organize materials by subject, browsing becomes extremely easy.  Once you find a book that looks relevant to your research idea, it is a good idea to browse the nearby books on the shelf, as they will be highly related.

For more information on this organization schema, please see the Library of Congress Classification Outline

Here is a hypothetical shelf of books with the call numbers explained: