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I-Search Paper for Visual Culture

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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. In Visual Culture, the I Search Paper is your Signature Assignment Your I Search paper will be a record of your research, your exploration into using various search strategies and methodologies, and an explanation of your process. Finally, include how writing this paper has affected or changed your thinking about visual culture.

To begin the I-search paper make sure that you understand the terms and assumptions that are embedded within the prompt. As you begin to consider the questions listed below, keep a record of your thought process. This will become part of your I-Search story.

Remember, you are not looking for “the answer.” You are not writing a report. You are investigating a topic in an attempt to learn something new about where and how it is discussed in print and other media. In fact, given the personal nature of this paper, your conclusion might offer reflections on what you learned about the topic and about researching.


  1. Start with Wikipedia.To find out 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.
  2. Next check to Otis Library's Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) for books. Many of the objects you are searching have entire books written about them. If not, find a book about the artist.
  3. You may also consult general Art History survey textbooks. These are located in the reference section or the Library (or the stacks) in the N5300 section. They include titles such as Art History by Marilyn Stokstad. Or you may search for specific surveys of art history for a particular period or type of art. For instance, A History of Roman Art by Steven L. Tuck. In these books you will find the context for your work.
  4. Databases that are provided for you through the Library website are often an excellent source especially for academic papers.  Art Source is arguably the best for art courses. Try it! However, many articles in the database are in academic journals that are aimed at other scholars. They often discuss subjects in much more depth than you may need for this assignment. If you can find an article in a more general magazine such as the Smithsonian, it will serve you better. But you will be required to use these sources in other advanced courses. So, please take this opportunity to try them now. A good source for students is Scholarly Blog Index. All are written by scholars.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. You will then create a bibliography of at least 2 sources--books, museum website, 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 Sample Annotations, Criteria for Evaluating Information, and Types of Information, I-Search Paper for Visual Culture)

Remember that research is a creative process. Use your creative thinking skills in the research process. Explore widely, question, learn, and keep revising your strategy as needed. Have fun!

Writing in First Person 
An I Search paper will be a record of your investigative journey--what and how you researched as well as what you learned and how that influenced you. Because of this, I Search papers are always written in first person.  

Beyond text...
Please feel free to incorporate images and hyperlinks in your I Search paper.  Remember that all images should have captions and be cited. Please review the section in this portfolio on citations.