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Introduction to Visual Culture

I-Search Paper versus Research Report

An I-Search paper is a mindful introduction to doing research.

Instead of focusing on finding sources that support a thesis, an I-Search paper is all about the process. Through documentation and reflection, students can compare how their understanding of the pair of objects evolves as their knowledge about it deepens. They can examine their search strategies, to become better researchers in the future.

Research Reports are for more experienced researchers.

This more conventional essay allows students to explore the research resources available to them as Otis students. These databases may be different than the ones that the student used in high school, at a public library, or at another instruction. Students are still encouraged to reflect upon their search strategies, to become more efficient and effective researchers in the future.

This research report option is up to discretion of the faculty.

How to Write the I-Search Paper

What Is an I-Search Paper?

An I-Search Paper helps you learn the nature of searching and discovery on a chosen topic. Your goal is to pay attention, track this exploration, and LEARN HOW YOU LEARN so that you can repeat the process in other courses.

The I-Search Paper should be the story of your search process, including chronological reflections on the phases of research in a narrative form. The I is for YOU. It's the story of YOUR search and what YOU learned.

Image: Franzi


Step 1. Document Your Research Process

Keep track of the actual search terms and specific databases you used and how you modified your strategy as you went along. You will include those details in your paper. Analyze the results. How many hits did you get? Say how and why you modified your search strategy to get more or less. What did you learn about each database that you tried? What kind of information did you find. Why were the names of the journals or magazines articles were in.

In all your research, include actual facts and theories that you discover about your topic as well as idiosyncratic information such as what surprised you. You could say what you already knew about the topic before beginning the research and how what you knew about that topic may have changed during the research process.

If you have trouble finding relevant materials in the Library, ask a librarian. They have Master's Degrees in research, are more discerning than search engines. Plus, they are happy to assist!

Image: InkFactory

Visual  notetaking.

2. Look Through Art History Survey Sites

Consult reputable online art history sites, such as the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History and smARThistory.

If you are able to physically visit the Library, there are several general art history textbooks (N 5300) available in the Reference section, including Art History by Marilyn Stokstad. They are concise sources for specific art historical contexts for your chosen objects. Some are as e-books.

Many (but not all) of the Wall items are discussed in all of these general art history resources.

Art History

Step 3. Search Wikipedia

What you want to learn is the facts about the object--context, movement, date, etc. To find more about how to appropriately use Wikipedia for college-level research, consult the Research Guide for Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia which is excellent for background information. Pay special attention to the footnotes and references at the bottom of the page. they may guide you to excellent academic sources.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Step 4. Search the Library Catalog

Next, search OwlCat, the library catalog, for books, ebooks, and articles.

Many of the objects you are researching have articles and sometimes even entire books written about them. If not, you should find some articles. If you cannot find enough items, broaden your search to find a book about the artist, designer, or culture.

Once you find a suitable item, use its call number and browse the shelves for similar items.

OwlCat Extended Search screen

Step 5. Search the Databases

Check out the Databases listed on the Library website. OwlCat's search results may be overwhelming, so it may be easier to search each research database individually.

Art Source is arguably the best for art courses and is tightly integrated into OwlCat. ProQuest Research Library also covers many art and desing publications; however, its results may not show up as much in OwlCat.

Explore our research databases!

Art Source OmniFile

Step 6. Create a Bibliography

You will then create a bibliography of at least 2 sources--books, museum websites, or journal articles. Wikipedia won't really count as one of your sources since it's really just about finding background information or referrals to other sources.

If you include websites in your bibliography, make sure they are educationally oriented. Find out who wrote them and what their credentials are. For instance, museum websites are often written by curators/art historians whose purpose is the educate. Additionally, Smarthistory, now part of Khan Academy, discusses many iconic works and these are written by PhD. art historians. If you find something on this site, it would be a very good source. Make sure your web sources are Quality Web Sources.

Image: Reasonist Products

The Credible Hulk always cites his sources.

Step 7. Write Evaluative Annotations

You must annotate and evaluate the sources in the bibliography or works cited list. Remember, the annotations must include the credentials of the author and the type of information (scholarly, popular, etc.), and the intended audience of the publication. See:

Image: FuzzBones


Relevant Databases

Video: Searching Is Strategic

Locating information requires a combination of inquiry, discovery, and serendipity. There is no one size fits all source to find the needed information. Information discovery is nonlinear and iterative, requiring the use of abroad range of information sources and flexibility to pursuit alternate avenues as new understanding is developed. Depending on the information need and context, the learner may need to consult a variety of resources ranging from databases and books to observations and interviews.

Minimum Requirements

Foundation Level Competency

C - level Information Literacy

Source information is RESTATED to support topic and includes TWO annotations that may be from books, database articles, or academic/museum/ professional websites.

Sources must appear as in‐text citations and on a works cited page

Each annotation must include 3 of the following criteria:

  1. Author’s credentials related to topic
  2. Description of type of source/audience
  3. Discussion of purpose/point of view
  4. Discussion of currency of the source
  5. Explain why the source is relevant to the assignment.

Complete Foundation Rubric

Do You Need Citation Help?

The Library offers a variety of information literacy instruction. Instructors may request an in-class workshop for Annotations and/or Citations by filling out this form.

The Student Learning Center (SLC) also provides drop-in tutoring. Be sure sure to check their current hours here.

You may also visit the Library for citation help, or use the Ask a Librarian form on the Library website.

See also:

Otis College of Art and Design | 9045 Lincoln Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90045 | Otis Dashboard

Millard Sheets Library | Library Dashboard Site | 310-665-6930 | Ask a Librarian