Surviving Seminary

Research

  1. OCLC WorldCat [October 12, 2012]
  2. Bibleworks: Pros and Cons [Novmeber 9, 2012]
  3. Spurious Quotations [March 8, 2013]
  4. Ten Tips for More Effective Research [March 22, 2013]

OCLC WorldCat [October 12, 2012]

You are probably wondering right now why you should bother to read a paragraph about a database with such an uninspiring name. Well, if you were to judge Batman solely by the name Bruce Wayne, you might have the same reaction. Like Batman, however, this is an extremely powerful tool. You can use it to

  • Discover if a book exists,
  • Learn which libraries own it,
  • Order it through the Interlibrary Loan interface,
  • Fill in the parts of your bibliographic citation that you forgot to note down in your research rush, and
  • Generate a citation for your paper’s bibliography in several major scholarly styles.

OCLC WorldCat is a catalog of catalogs, so you are likely to find records for any item that is in any catalog in North America and much of western Europe, including archival material, media recordings, and journals. It functions in the same way as the Advanced search in SMU’s Library Catalog. Simply enter your search terms, select a result, and open up the item’s record. From there you will find links such as “libraries worldwide that own item,” “Request SMU Interlibrary Loan,” and “Cite this item.” The first will tell you who, including SMU, owns the item, the second lets you order it if SMU does not own it, and the last will generate a citation for your bibliography in the scholarly style of your choice.

If you would like to learn more about using OCLC WorldCat, please ask David Schmersal or Jane Elder. They will be happy to demonstrate it. Or you can try it right away by clicking here: http://proxy.libraries.smu.edu/login?url=http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org/dbname=WorldCat;FSIP

Bibleworks: Pros and Cons [Novmeber 9, 2012]

Many of you will have heard about the exegetical software program Bibleworks. It is an extremely sophisticated tool for Biblical research and includes Greek and Hebrew Bibles, the Septuagint, and Bibles in multiple modern languages. All the research tools one could wish for are included: concordances, lexicons, dictionaries, etc. It advertises itself as appropriate for all levels of users. But . . .

Before you jump in and spend a significant amount of money you should be aware of some caveats. First, Bibleworks is not compatible with Macs (Mac users can look into a product called Accordance.) More importantly, however, Bibleworks is arguably not the best tool for beginning seminarians, who need to have a good grasp of the process of exegesis before they elect to get involved with a fairly complicated software product. One analogy is that a beginning exegete starting out with Bibleworks is a lot like a small child learning to ride a bike by climbing aboard a Cervelo S3 racing cycle instead of a Schwinn one-speed with training wheels. Spend your first year learning the process of exegesis, then make an informed decision about whether your interests and career path will warrant learning about Bibleworks.

Once you feel confident in your ability to write a solid exegetical paper, however, we invite you to give Bibleworks a try. Bridwell Library has the program loaded on select computers around the building, and Bibleworks offers a series of excellent (and short) tutorial videos. Please consider giving it a try.

For more information about the program, please see the web site: http://www.bibleworks.com/ For Accordance, please see the web site: http://www.accordancebible.com/

Spurious Quotations [March 8, 2013]

Preachers often use quotations in their sermons to illustrate a point, invoke authority, or simply add some humor. It sometimes happens, however, that the quotations one hears from the pulpit are not worth the paper they are written on. Yet once uttered these unsubstantiated quotations take on a life of their own, in the minds of congregations, in church newsletters, and on the Internet. How many of you have seen the following floating around on Facebook?

"The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that you can never know if they are genuine."

Abraham Lincoln

This same line is attributed to Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many others. Such is the problem that the web site for Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home, Monticello, has posted an article listing all the quotation that our third president never said (http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/spurious-quotations).

Propagating false information is a problem, albeit a minor one in the overall scheme of life. Nevertheless, you need to be aware that in using spurious quotations you run the risk of looking either like an idiot or a plagiarist. Why? Because inevitably someone listening to you will know a whole lot more about the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, for example, than you do. Besides, how difficult is it to verify a quotation using a reputable resource on the Internet? Or, if you can’t track it down, substituting a similar statement that you can verify? So consider this a plea from everyone you risk sending on a wild goose chase. Check those quotations before you use them.

Good resources for quotations include Bartleby.com http://www.bartleby.com/quotations/, Wikiquote is another somewhat reliable resource, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Main_Page, notable for its list of misquotations that in some cases provide the correct attribution: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/List_of_misquotations.

Ten Tips for More Effective Research [March 22, 2013]

1) When possible try to select a topic or an area of research in which you are already interested.

2) Students know what they call their topic, but that may not be what the Library Catalog or databases are calling it. Don’t panic; instead try some synonyms to see if they get results.

3) Keyword searching in both the Library Catalog and SMU’s databases is best for casting a broad net to catch any likely material suitable for your project. As you progress and gain a better feel for your subject, switch to more focused searches based on the names of authors or on specific titles.

4) Instead of checking out a stack of books on a subject you might want to research, search for your topic in the encyclopedias and dictionaries. These items give concise overviews of a topic and provide reliable bibliographies for each article. You can decide if you like the topic and then go get the books.

5) Abbreviations in bibliographic citations are standard to each field and are listed in the front matter of many reference works related to that field, especially those published by Oxford.

6) There is no right way to keep your project organized—notecards, notebooks, word documents, bibliographic software—whatever system works for you is the one you should use. The important thing is to create and maintain the place where you put all the material you gather.

7) For large projects, create and maintain a checklist of tasks to help keep you focused. Sometimes a timeline of self-imposed deadlines can help as well.

8) To save time and avoid accusations of plagiarism, put the page number first when taking notes and always use quotation marks when pulling language verbatim from a source.

9) None of us knows when the resolution to a research problem will pop into our heads, so creating a way to capture these thoughts on the fly is essential. Smart phones, iPad apps, or plain old paper and pencil are equally good means of getting that idea down so you can retrieve it later.

10) While computer programs, databases, social media, and all sorts of other technologies deliver information with astounding rapidity, thought processes still take the same amount of time as they did in the days of Irenaeus of Lyons. Give yourself ample time to think about your project before you actually start writing; there are no short-cuts to this process.

For more information about doing research, see Kate L. Turabian. Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers. 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Bridwell Ref. Office LB 2369 .T82 2010.