UCB Libraries

WRTG 3007

Writing for the Visual Arts
  • Starting Research
  • Books
  • Articles
  • Images
  • Citing
  • Evaluating

Focussing a topic

Once you have determined a topic, issue or subject of interest, you will need to focus the topic into a researchable question. Some tips for doing so are:

  • Brainstorm about your topic. Identify related issues, people, events etc.
  • List what you already know about your topic, and what you need to know or want to know.
  • Determine what perspective will you take on your topic.
  • Deternine the geographic region on which you will focus.
  • Choose a specific time period.

Often doing some preliminary reading or background research is extremely helpful in developing a focus. Move to the next step 'Getting Background Info' for some tips.



Finding Background Information

Developing a comprehensive understanding of your topic is essential when embarking on research. One way to gain background information is to utilize reference sources. This will help you to focus and concentrate your interest in a researchable portion of your topic. For help developing background information:


Online Dictionaries

Oxford Art Online CU

The Oxford Art Online is an online encyclopedia of art and art related items. It is particularly useful for finding a definition of a particular style or movement or for finding biographical information on an artist. Entries are created by scholars and include a bibliography.


Dictionaries and Encyclopedia



Cassell's Cyclopaedia Of Photography



History of photography : a bibliography of books

ART/ARCHITECTURE Z7134 .R66 1989  


Encyclopedia Of Photography



The Concise Focal Encyclopedia Of Photography




Critical dictionary of film and television theory


Film encyclopedia, 4th ed


Filmmaker's dictionary


International dictionary of broadcasting and film
REF DEPT STACKS PN1990.4 .B64 2000


International film, television and video acronyms


Language of cinema


Women's companion to international film


See the subject guides below for more reference sources.

Other Library Guides:

Art & Architecture

Architecture, Environmental Design, and Planning 

Artist, How Do I Research a Contemporary...

Film Studies



Finding Reference Sources


You will find numerous reference sources in the UCB Libraries' collection, both online and in print.

SEARCH your topic in Reference Universe, enter your topic in the search box below:

Reference Universe: This is a searchable database that indexes information from specialized subject encyclopedias. It does not include the full text of reference materials but will point you to reference sources that cover your topic. It searches both the titles of reference articles as well as the encyclopedia / dictionary indexes, providing a thorough level of access to materials and potential sources. CU


For more reference source search tips, go to How do I find Reference Sources.


Developing Keywords

Before you start to research a topic, you need to develop keywords that represent your research interest, question, or inquiry.


Keywords are significant words (usually nouns or noun phrases) which can be used as search terms in online catalogs or databases. Keywords will determine the quantity and relevance of results you retrieve when searching.


First you will identify and articulate your topic in your own words:

Example: I am interested in investigating architecture in Spanish religion.

Next you will designate the main concepts or ideas that describe the topic:


Concept 1:



Concept 2:


Concept 3:


Then develop other terms and vocabulary that represent the topic. Some terms may be broader, narrower, or synonyms. Adding terms that represent geographical distincitions, time periods, or significant figures about your topic may also be useful.


Concept 1:












Concept 2:




Latin American








Concept 3:














Combining Keywords


AND: architectonics AND Spain (must find both terms)
OR: Chicano OR Latino (must find one of the terms)
NOT: Latin America NOT Mexico (must find first term NOT second term)



Phrases: “South America” (must find that phrase in that order)
Synonyms: (chicano OR Latino) AND faith
Wildcards: Latin America* will find Latin American, Latin Americans etc

You may use the UCB Search Strategy/ Keyword Worksheet to develop your own topic.

For details on combining keywords for the best results view the

How Do I Use Keywords

Chinook is the catalog for materials owned by the CU Libraries. You can do a title search for a specific book, or a keyword search if you are looking for books on a particular topic. You can also use MyChinook to manage your library account (including renewals, holds, recalls, saved searches, etc.)

Chinook Catalog


Tutorial: Chinook Keyword Search


For Tips on developing keywords for your topic go to:


How do I Choose Keywords for my search



Subject Headings

To find books on relevant topics, search Chinook more in-depth by using LC Subject Headings. The following selection may help get you started. Also, pay attention to the subject headings used for books you've already identified in order to find other works on the same subject and also identify keyword search terms.


Art Abstract

Spirituality In Art

Art American 19th Century

Photography France Exhibitions

Photography In Archaeology

Quilting Patterns




If you search Chinook and find that the CU Libraries do not have the item you are looking for (or if the item you are looking for is checked out), you can search Prospector, which is a combined library catalog of 23 libraries in Colorado and Wyoming. CU students, staff and faculty can request materials through Prospector, and the items will generally be delivered to Norlin within a few business days. prospector prospector


Request through Interlibrary Loan (ILL) - http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/ill/

If the item you are looking for is not in Chinook or Prospector, you can request it through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Generally, an ILL request will take longer to be delivered than material requested through Prospector.



If you are looking for articles on a particular topic, you can use many relevant databases that CU Libraries subscribes to. Some of the article databases only include citation information about the article, while others include access to the full-text of the document, usually in either PDF or HTML format.


The most relevant databases for the Visual Arts are listed below. You can also try the Find Articles & More page where the databases are organized by subject/ discipline categories.

If the particular database you search does not have the full-text of the article available, look for the 'Find it at CU' option to search for electronic or print copies. If you are unable to locate the 'Find it at CU' option, follow the steps for finding a specific article below.

Typically you may search by keyword, author, title and more. For help developing keywords, go to How do I Choose Keywords? HINT! Keep track of search terms. Look for database recommended search terms and help resources.


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Tutorial: VPN


The Libraries subscribe to numerous databases and choosing the right article database can be difficult. There are numerous types of databases some will provide citations and abstracts, some will also include full text, some will link to reference materials, and more.

  • General and Interdisciplinary databases: These databases are a good starting point when you are new to your topic. They often include scholarly and popular sources as well as material from a variety of disciplines and perspetives. For Example: Academic Search Premier

  • Subject or Discipline Databases: These databases will help you find material from specific disciplines. They provide more in-depth and focused research. For Example:Anthropology Plus or ATLA Religion Database
  • Format Specific Databases: These databases are narrowed to specific types of material, such as newspapers, statistics, images, biographies etc. For Example: ProQuest newspapers

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Art Databases


Academic Search Premier CU

Provides full text articles from scholarly, trade, and general- interest publications for nearly all academic areas of study.


Art Full Text and Art Retrospective CU

Art Index is a bibliographic database that indexes and abstracts articles from periodicals published throughout the world. Periodical coverage includes English-language periodicals, yearbooks, and museum bulletins.


ARTbibliographies Modern CU

Provides full abstracts of journal articles, books, essays, exhibition catalogs, PhD dissertations, and exhibition reviews on all forms of modern (late 19th century) and contemporary art, including photography since its invention. Entries date back as far as the late 1960s. The coverage of ABM is wide-ranging and includes performance art and installation works, video art, computer and electronic art, body art, graffiti, artists' books, theatre arts, conservation, crafts, ceramic and glass art, ethnic arts, graphic and museum design, fashion, and calligraphy, as well as traditional media including illustration, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and drawing.


Art Index CU
Index of leading publications in the world of arts. Coverage: 1984-present.

Film Databases


Film and Television Literature Index CU
A comprehensive bibliographic database covering the entire spectrum of television and film writing. It has been designed for use by a diverse audience that includes film scholars, college students, and general viewers. Subject coverage includes film & television theory, preservation & restoration, writing, production, cinematography, technical aspects, and reviews.


Humanities Abstracts CU
This database provides references for periodical information in the humanities subject area. Coverage: February 1984-present.


MLA Directory of Periodicals CU
MLA International Bibliography is produced by the Modern Language Association. Index to articles in literature, languages, linguistics, and folklore from several thousand journals and series published worldwide. Coverage: 1963-present.

Reviews and news items


LexisNexis Academic

Newspapers are often the best source of information for contemporary artists. Like with the other databases, use the name of your artist as your keyword. Be careful when searching for films, you will yield mostly reviews.


1. Enter Search Terms - keywords, artists name

2. Search Within - Major US and World Publications

3. Specify Date - automatic default is 2 years, change to All Available Dates if 2 years does not yield results

CU = Available to CU affiliates only.
How to connect from home: Remote access information.


If you have a specific article you need or you are tracking works from a bibliography, you will use:


Find it @ CU Article Finder
Complete this form to find the article in electronic or print.

Tutorial: Find it @ CU Article Finder

OR use the Chinoook Journals/ Serials Title search. Be sure to look for the journal/ magazine title NOT the article title. Then follow the links to the correct volume, issue, year, page number.

Tutorial: Chinook Periodical Title





ARTstor CU
Searchable database of more than 300,000 digital images and associated catalog data. ARTstor covers many time periods and cultures, and documents the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design, as well as many other forms of visual culture. Users can search, view, and download images.


Oxford (Grove) Art Online CU

Online reference resource for all aspects of the visual arts worldwide from prehistory to the present day.


Art Images for College Teaching

Emphasizing ancient, medieval, and Renaissance European art and architecture. AICT is intended primarily to disseminate images of art and architectural works in the public domain on a free-access, free-use basis to all levels of the educational community, as well as to the public at large.


Bridgeman Art Library
Find art images from museums, collections and artists from around the world.


Google Image Search

Google Image Search is the fastest way to locate an image. Put the artist or work of art/architecture in "quotes" for best results.


Web Gallery of Art

The Web Gallery of Art is a virtual museum and searchable database of European painting and sculpture of the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods (1100-1850), currently containing over 14,500 reproductions. Commentaries on pictures, biographies of artists are available.


WebMuseum Paris

WebMuseum is an online collection of images ranging from European Gothic to Twentieth Century to Japanese art and architecture. The site was created to showcase art and architecture and to provide an online resource to items available in art museums around the world. Anyone is able to contribute to the collection of online images therefore it is necessary to be careful about the nature of the information provided.


Also see: How do I find Images?





Citation Styles

The following guides provide samples of common citation formats. Consult Reference Desk personnel for additional information.


APA Style (PDF document)


MLA Style (PDF document)


Turabian: a form of Chicago Style (PDF document)


You may also find print guides in the library:




Turabian (Chicago)

A personal online database and bibliography creator that allows users to create a personal database online, import references automatically from multiple databases, organize references, and quickly format bibliographies and manuscripts. You will need to create a login and password. Provided by the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries.


How do I use RefWorks?


Pick an Interesting Topic It is easier to express your own opinions and thoughts if you are interested in the topic.


Manage Your Time

Many students are tempted to plagiarize because they do not start researching and writing far enough in advance. Start your paper at least 3 weeks before the due date. Plagiarism could compromise your entire academic career. Speak to your professor if you have run out of time.


Create a Bibliography as you Research

Record the sources you consult. Include all the bibliographic information needed in your works cited (Author, Title, Pages, Publisher, Year, Volume, Issue).This will help you to cite correctly and to compile your works cited.


Take Clear Notes

Designate all direct quotes with quotation marks.

Designate when you are paraphrasing.

Electronic Research and Note taking is the same: Use quotation marks when you cut and paste.

Always note the source/ author.


Be Careful with Paraphrasing

Be sure you understand the text.

Do not look at the original source when writing your paraphrase.

Reorganize the information in your own words and in your own style.

Check to be sure you have not used the vocabulary or structure of the original work.

Mention the author near or in your paraphrase.


And Remember to Cite:

Any information that was not originally created by you:
  • Quotations
  • Key terms or phrases
  • Ideas
  • Facts not broadly known
  • Images and Sounds
Any material from another source regardless of where you found it:
  • Printed sources
  • Electronic sources
  • Conversation or email
  • Recorded sources
  • Images



There are three steps you can follow to evaluate the sources (articles, websites, books) that you have found. You will want to evaluate the credibility of the author, validity of the research, and relevance of articles and web sites.


Authority of the Author


The first step in evaluating a source is determining the authority of the author who produced the material. To determine authority, you'll want to evaluate the trustworthiness (credentials, education, experience, etc.) of an author.


To determine credibility, ask these questions: 

  • Is the author formally educated in the subject?
  • Does the author work for a university or research center?
  • Is the author a recognized scholar in the subject?
  • Does the author have an established history of research and writing on the subject?

Validity of the Research


The second step of evaluating a source is determining the validity of the research being presented in the article, website or book. To ensure that the research is valid, you want to determine the quality of the research used to support the argument being made. It is also important to remember that excellent or persuasive writing doesn't necessarily ensure that the research presented is valid.


To determine the validity of the research in the source, ask these questions:

  • Does the author thoroughly cite all the sources? (Saying "a study was done" is not a citation.)
  • Is there a list of sources at the end of the article?
  • Does the author's evidence support the claim?
  • Is the author's evidence objective research instead of personal narrative?
  • Does it come from a peer-reviewed publication (which means the research was evaluated by experts before it was published)?

Relevance to Your Topic


The third step in evaluating a source is determining the article's relevance to your topic:


To determine relevance, ask these questions:

  • Is the article sufficiently broad to address the issue you are discussing?
  • If the article is broad, can its conclusions be applied to your subject? (e.g. an article about drinking habits of students at large universities applies to your subject of drinking habits of CU students)
  • If the article is narrow, can its conclusions be generalized to your subject? (e.g. an article about volleyball players and eating disorders at Honalee State University can be applied to your subject of eating disorders in women college athletes)


The key difference between scholarly and popular magazine articles is the required peer review process for scholarly journal articles.


Peer review is a publishing process in academic fields. Before editors decide whether to accept an article for publication in a scholarly journal, they need to send this article to other researchers in this article's subject area to do a review. This process is called "peer review" because the author's peers (i.e. other scholars) decide if the article should be published.


Below are some of the characteristics of scholarly journals and popular magazines and newspapers.


Type of Periodical Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine or Newspaper

Original Research

In-Depth Analysis

Current Events / Popular topics / Interviews
Not original research by the author
Writing Level Technical language
Assumes college education
Simple, elementary language
Assumes only 8th grade education!
Authors Researchers, Academics
Experts in the subject they are writing about
Not subject experts
Sources Almost always has a list of Works Cited
Extensive documentation
Rarely documents sources
Documentation vague (e.g. "A study was done...")
Published By Scholarly societies, University Presses Commercial publishers
Pictures and Paper Few or no photographs
Includes charts or tables
Regular white paper
Many photographs and pictures
Glossy paper
Examples Sociological Review
Journal of Asian Studies
Journal of Philosophy
People Weekly
Sports Illustrated
New York Times
Denver Post
Length Tends to be longer Tends to be shorter