Skip to Main Content

Philosophy Research Guide

Doing philosophical research at the Catholic University of America

Overview of the Research Process at Catholic University

Before starting any research project, researchers must be careful to distinguish between 'finding information' and 'performing research.' 'Finding information' lacks an overall plan. The search is done in a haphazard way and the first 'answer' that is encountered is accepted as the best or the only answer. In contrast, 'doing research' is methodological; that is, you go to the proper bibliographical resources in the necessary sequence.

All bibliographical research boils down to answering two questions:

  1. What exists in the bibliographical universe regarding my research topic, problem, question, or issue?
  2. How do I get a copy of the article, book, review, etc.?

I use the metaphor of the universe to drive home a couple of points. First, you have access to practically everything 'out there' and second, you can begin your research without first having to go to the library! With your computer and an Internet connection, you can access and retrieve material (the latter to be discussed later). In my library instruction classes, I am often asked by students as we are searching a bibliographical database (trying to answer question two) how to retrieve only full-text articles. This is an example of conflating the two questions. While many databases offer the temptation of restricting the search to only full text articles, you must resist! Do not try to answer question two first.

You want to answer the first question of what exists in the bibliographical universe by building a list of scholarly citations. To do this, you need to consult ABI:

  • A - Abstracts
  • B - Bibliographies
  • I - Indices (Indexes)

Each subject has at least one relevant database that you can begin searching, although to do a thorough search, you will need to examine print ABIs as well. Go to and select 'Databases.' If you are accessing our website from off campus, you will need to log in with your Cardinal Card ID number. Once you are logged in, click on 'Databases by Category' and select the subject area that best fits your topic. For example, if you are researching a paper on Augustine and free will, you will want to select 'Philosophy/Religion.'

Searching Databases

Most databases have intimidating interfaces; however, they can be reduced to two main dimensions:

  1. Simple (basic search) vs. advanced search
  2. Keyword vs. subject (or specific field) search

For example, most databases have a default setting of a basic search with a keyword search field prominently displayed. You may want to take a minute and peruse the features of the advanced search. Once you are familiar with the layout, follow the steps below:

  • Take your topic and extract the basic search terms
  • Select a search field in simple or in advanced search mode
  • Input search terms
  • Evaluate results: examine citations for other concepts that better describe what you are looking for
  • Redo search with new search terms

Once you have extracted the relevant citations from this database, you must decide if that will be sufficient, and if it is not, whether or not you must search another database. If you choose another database, be mindful of the fact that search terms that are useful in one database may not be pertinent in the next database, and you may need to find new relevant search terms to capture the concepts you are researching.

Find me a copy!

The second question is: How do I get a copy of what is stated in the citation? It is important to determine what the citation is pointing to: a book, a journal article, a book review, a newspaper article, etc.

These items can be found in a number of locations, in descending order of priority:

Full-text articles, book reviews, etc. can be located:

  • *In the database you are currently searching
  • *In another database linked to from your current database
  • *FIND IT button in the current database
  • *CU's e-Journals
  • *WRLC Catalog--print journals in the Catholic University Libraries
  • *Consortium Loan Service through the WRLC Catalog
  • *Put a request through Interlibrary Loan (ILL) (CUA students and faculty only) and we will find the article for you. 

Books can be located:

The world of information is at your fingertips. By planning ahead when requesting consortium and ILL material, most material will come to you; if you procrastinate, you will have to go to the information. Creating a plan before embarking on your research will save you time, money and alleviate stress. Good researching!