Thesis and Research Steps:

Notes from a research librarian and historian

To the Art of Local History Program


Start with your initial inquiry, your thesis statement or question. (see thesis handout)

For example, “Why are salmon important to Native Cultures in the Olympia area and what is the economic and historical role of salmon in this area?”



Begin with books. The web is great but only a fraction of what’s available is on the web. Background reading helps inform your research and may help change your thesis focus.

I tried: “Olympia salmon history” as a key word search and got nowhere. Darn!

So I expanded my search.

Go look at them. Do they help you? Are there other books next to them that are also interesting and useful?


Take notes on what you read and keep track of your searching with a research log:



Trust what you’ve studied before: Think of words, books, resources, ideas that will bring you closer to your question. Or ask others about their knowledge (reference librarians can be very helpful, so can online history resources for the class. Ask Ed for help too). For example, because I’ve taught Pacific NW history before, I know that a book called To Fish in Common by Daniel Boxberger offers exciting and interesting history on fishing rights and Pacific Northwest Indian Treaty rights, policy and culture. So, I looked up that book by doing a title search in the TESC library catalog: “To fish in common,” and discovered to my dismay that it’s not in our library! Why not, it was there before?! I checked, someone stole it and it hasn’t been replaced. What to do now?!  Well, it so happens that I have a personal copy to put on reserve for the class (hint, check books on reserve). Just because it isn’t right here doesn’t mean you can’t have it.



Use Journal articles to inform yourself about specific kinds of information: Journal articles are almost always very narrowly focused. So, you may not find anything about salmon and Olympia history, but you may find something about salmon and Pacific Northwest history but with a very specific thesis. These articles can be useful for context and helpful as you analyze your research and write your text. Start at the “Reference and Journals” link from the TESC Catalog Page and begin with keywords.



Primary Documents Research:

Primary documents form the foundation of historical research. A diary, a letter, a government agency report, a treaty, a photograph, a taped interview, an artifact . . .all provide clues to history. These sorts of things are usually not available on library bookshelves. We find them in special collections and archives in libraries, museums and government records collections. Sometimes these kinds of records are collected by individual researchers or by families. We’ll be going to some archives and to the state library a few times during the rest of the quarter.