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Whitman College and Northwest Archives: Top Five Research Tips

An introduction to the archives and special collections department of the Penrose Library.

Strategies to Get the Most Out of Your Time in the Archives

  • Skim materials first and then go back for an in-depth review.
  • Be open-minded and let sources speak to you.  If you try to find evidence to prove a specific point, you may draw conclusions not supported by sources, waste time looking for something that is not in the collection, or miss more important or more interesting information.
  • Ask a lot of questions.  Who, What, When, Where, Why?  What are the motives of the creator of the document?  What's at stake?  Is there any reason s/he would distort or dissemble?  Be sure to interrogate the structure of the document and unpack assumptions embedded within it.
  • Practice good time management skills.  One single document is very rarely going to tell the whole story.
  • Take careful notes so you can locate the source later.  (This means write down the record series number, the box number, and folder title, if applicable.)  

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