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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Finding Journal Articles for Music Research

This guide is an introduction (or a refresher) to searching for, accessing, and evaluating articles for music research.

Getting Started

Welcome to the Music & Performing Arts Library (MPAL) guide to Finding Journal Articles!

If you are new to research at the library or want a reminder about how to develop a search strategy, read through the rest of this page. If you are just looking for some advanced tips to improve your searching, jump ahead to Structuring Your Search and Using Databases.

The University of Illinois subscribes to over a thousand different databases that can help you access the content you need. It can be overwhelming to know how to start searching, so here are a few quick tips:

  • First, it helps to know what you're searching. Here's some terminology to keep in mind:
    • Databases are searchable collections of published sources. They can be interdisciplinary or subject-specific.
    • Journals are scholarly publications that include articles written by experts in the field. 
    • Articles are individual pieces on a specific topic published in a journal. 
    • Indexes are lists of articles or other publications within a particular discipline or topic. Some indexes will include article abstracts and some will include full text access.
    • Abstracts are concise summaries of articles that can help you determine whether an article is relevant to your research. 
  • If you are looking for a specific journal, you can search by the journal name in Library Catalog Journal Search.
  • If you are looking for a specific article, you can use the Journal and Article Locator to find the full text.

Developing a Search Strategy

Before you start researching, you should plan out a search strategy. Think about the research question you're trying to answer and brainstorm a list of possible keywords. What terms best describe the information you're looking for? What kind of sources do you need? Taking the time to articulate exactly what kind of information you need before you start looking will help you retrieve more focused, relevant results. To walk through the process of developing a search strategy, check out the example below!

 Infographic explaining the process of developing a search strategy with examples. See Accessible Version below for full text.

Breaking Down the Research Process

Using the steps below to structure your research can help keep you on the right track. Remember as you work that research is a cyclical, iterative process - you may need to reevaluate your search terms multiple times, brainstorming new keywords as you refine your topic.

  1. Write down your topic as a broad sentence or question - framing your topic as a question is a great strategy for directing your search and making sure you've developed a sufficiently complex topic. Your research question shouldn't be something that can be answered with a quick yes or no.
  2. Identify the main words or concepts in your topic - these will be the first terms you try to search with. These main concepts can also help you select appropriate background sources to learn more about your topic; for example, if one of your main concepts is "country music", you might take a look at a popular music encyclopedia to find general background information.
  3. Brainstorm alternative words you can use for each keyword - these should be synonyms or related ideas to the main words or concepts you identified earlier.
  4. Identify library resources to search - try to consult a variety of sources and remember there's a lot out there! You could try Grove Music Online or the Garland Encyclopedia for World Music for background information, a database like Music Index or JSTOR for scholarly journal articles, and a search in the library catalog for recordings, collected essays of criticism, or monographs on your topic!

Quick Tip: Keep track of the search terms you've used and the databases you've tried so you don't repeat unsuccessful searches. Keeping a research journal is a great way to develop your skills and ensure you remember what keywords and strategies worked and which ones didn't.