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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

International Student Guide to Using the MPAL

The Research Process

It can help to think of research as a process that is organic and changing even as it is happening. However, pinning down some basic steps in the research process can help you focus your research and, if you don't even know what to do next, spark progress in the right direction. The following steps are summarized from Booth's The Craft of Research (Q180.55 .M4 B66 2003).

The five basic steps of the research process could be summarized as follows:

1. Choose a topic and create a research question

2. Find Sources

3. Use the sources to begin to form support for answering your question

4. Begin the writing process

5. Drafting and revising

While all of these steps have their challenges, this guide will focus on the first two steps of this process, during which you will probably find yourself searching for and using library resources most often. For questions about the other steps in the process, visit the UIUC Writing Center or see Booth's The Craft of Research.

Choose a topic and create a research question

You'll need to find a topic specific enough to let you master a reasonable amount of information but broad enough that you will be able to find sources to use for support. To start out, ask yourself questions about that topic--what aspects of it interest you? Then, determine if there are sources with the kind and amount of data necessary to support answers to those questions.

Find sources

MPAL has a wide variety of high-quality resources and databases to help you get started on your research, but facing so many choices can be overwhelming. Below you'll find a brief description of each of the main resources that MPAL offers, which will hopefully help you narrow down the best resources for your assignment and topic.


International Index to Music Periodicals Full Text (IIMP): IIMP provides indexing and abstracts for more than 420 international music periodicals, plus full text for about 80 journals. The database covers a comprehensive range of subject areas in both scholarly and popular music journals ranging from Ethnomusicology, Jazz Education Journal, and Musical Times, to Rolling Stone. Articles examine a wide spectrum of musical subjects, including music education, performance, ethnomusicology, musical theatre, theory, popular music forms and composition. Because many journals includes reviews, unless you particularly need review material you should check the “Exclude reviews” box on the search page.

Music Index: The online version of the Music Index covers the mid-1970s until the present. Over 700 international music periodicals are indexed. The index boasts a broad range of subjects, including past and present personalities, the history of music, forms and types of music, musical instruments from the earliest times to modern electronic instruments, plus computer produced music. Note: because Music Index and RILM are both from the same vendor, you can search them at the same time (as well as with other databases from Ebsco).

RILM: RILM contains bibliographic information about books, periodical articles, dissertations and reviews published between 1967 and the present day. You can limit your search by language (for example, you might only want material in English, or in French); by year of publication; and by publication type, such as “monograph” (book), or “dissertation”.

JSTOR: JSTOR is an archive of articles on many topics in the arts and sciences, including music. It contains full text material from 38 music journals. It is important to remember that JSTOR is an archive of journals: it does not include the most recent issues of any journal, so if you want access to these you should consult Online Journals & Databases to determine which source has the most recent issues. Please also note that JSTOR only allows keyword searches.

ERIC: ERIC, the Education Resource Information Center, contains more than 1.3 million records and links to more than 323,000 full-text documents dating back to 1966. This is a good resource for music education-related articles.

Education Full Text: Education Full Text provides full text of articles from over 350 journals as far back as 1996, in addition to indexing of more than 770 periodicals dating back to 1983. Content includes in-depth coverage of special education and more than 100,000 controlled and cross-referenced names of educational tests. Subject coverage includes adult education, multicultural/ethnic education, teaching methods and much more, including issues in music education.

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Oxford Music Online: With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music (revised 2011), which offers more than 8,000 articles on composers, performers, conductors, instruments and notation, forms and genres, and individual works; and The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition (revised 2006), which supplements Grove's more-extensive articles with content geared toward undergraduates and general users.

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: This resource provides more than 9,000 pages of material, combined with entries by more than 700 expert contributors from all over the world. Each volume contains an overview of a region; a survey of its musical heritage, traditions and themes; and a description of specific musical genres, practices, and performances. Articles include detailed photographs that show musicians, musical instruments, and the cultural context of dances, rituals, and ceremonies.

Harvard Dictionary of Music: Encyclopedia-length articles by notable experts alternate with short entries for quick reference in this print resource, including definitions and identifications of works and instruments. More than 220 drawings and 250 musical examples enhance the text.


ProQuest Digital Dissertations: ProQuest is a resource of electronic collections containing millions of documents originally published in magazines, newspapers, and journals. The Database field lets you limit your search to a specific database available from ProQuest, and from here searches can be limited to "Dissertations & Theses."

IDEALS (UIUC Dissertations): IDEALS collects, disseminates, and provides persistent and reliable access to the research and scholarship of faculty, staff, and students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All theses and dissertations deposited from Fall 2010 onward are available in IDEALS.

For additional help mastering the research process, consult the links to the left or visit one of the Writers Workshop locations on campus.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2003. Print.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

While choosing sources, keep in mind that there are three kinds:

Primary sources: the "raw data" about which researchers write directly (such as a score)

Secondary sources: data that other researchers have already compiled based on one or more primary sources (such as a score analysis)

Tertiary sources: books and articles based on secondary sources (such as an encyclopedia).

It's important that you look for sources in places where you can be certain that they are reliable, such as a journal database which holds articles that are peer-reviewed or scholarly (articles that have gone through a rigorous review process by professionals in the field before publication -- learn more about popular vs. scholarly materials here). If you're unsure if a source is trustworthy or you have questions about finding sources, ask the reference librarian.