Processes of study in the arts and humanities
Processes of study in the arts and humanities

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Processes of study in the arts and humanities

8.3 Planning your enquiry

I am grateful to Tony Coulson, Liaison Librarian (Arts) at The Open University, for his help with this section; also to Magnus John, Information Services Manager, International Centre for Distance Learning.

At this stage, you will be deciding what methods of enquiry to use and the scale of investigation to attempt. Will examining company papers, government reports and newspapers provide enough of the right kind of information? Or, since independent broadcasting companies have developed fairly recently, is it possible to seek first-hand information by interviewing past and present LWT policy-makers? If so, which post-holders and how many of them?

Whatever decisions you make about method and scope, you will certainly need to consult secondary source material too. You might make a start by looking in a library catalogue to see whether there is a specialist encyclopaedia (a general collection of facts and analysis) on the subject of television. There you will find:

Sendall, B. (1983) History of Independent Television in Britain; Volume 1, Origin and Foundation 1946–1962; Volume 2, Expansion and Change 1958–1962, London, Macmillan.

There are specialist encyclopaedias for most subjects in the arts and humanities. Because they provide a general overview of the field, and usually contain extensive bibliographies, they are a very good place to start.

Or, if you browse in the library under the label ‘Performing Arts (film, television and radio)’, you will soon come across relevant books such as:

Briggs, A. (1979) The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom; Volume IV, Sound and Vision, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

I even found:

Docherty, D. (1990) Running the Show: 21 Years of London Weekend Television, London, Boxtree.

The references included in these books will lead you to other relevant books and articles.

But you will also need to read up-to-date work. For that you have to refer to the academic journals that regularly publish scholarly articles and the results of recent research in your field. Again, there are specialist journals that cater for all arts and humanities subjects and any good library will have access to lists of them. In this case, you might look through the contents lists of the Journal of the Royal Television Society or the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, picking out articles related to your topic. You may well find that other people have carried out fairly similar enquiries, and you will want to learn from the methods they used as well as refer to their discoveries in your work. Having identified the material you need, you have to order it up or acquire as much as you can before the start of the next stage of the project.

Using a computer for research

These days you can conduct a ‘literature search’ by computer. You can also access data-bases and multi-media packages on CD-ROM. These developments are highly convenient and, as long as you know what you are looking for, fairly trouble free.

You may also have access to the masses of information now available on the Internet. But this is not without its difficulties. First, there is a problem about the status of this material. Some of the information available is offered by institutions such as universities, so you can be reasonably confident that it is reliable. Much is not. You may not know where it comes from nor what status this ‘knowledge’ has. When you surf the Internet you need your wits about you and your critical faculties on full alert.

Second, there is masses of it. More and more is becoming available every day. You can waste countless hours reading through what turns out to be useless for your purposes. Even if you find relevant material that you judge to be reliable, what are you going to do with it all? Do you have the time to read and analyse it carefully, and absorb it? At the least, you will have to be very selective. On what basis will you make your selections? Making these kinds of decisions alone takes time.

In short, the so-called ‘knowledge explosion’ seems a mixed blessing.

At this stage you also have to decide what deadlines you need to meet at each stage of the project and draw up an appropriate timetable for your work, perhaps week by week. (Remember to allow for the time you will spend travelling about to libraries and so forth.) And you may well be asked to submit a project outline for discussion with your tutor. Your tutor's advice will undoubtedly save you time and effort later on, so do not miss this and any other opportunity for guidance and help.

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