There are invisible holes that surround you as you research. In the book I talked about, the library changed the research systems every couple of years. Being a paranoid I made a copy of the cover page of each journal and the first page of the article that contained the abstract. Yes, I had boxes of materials but did not fill whole rooms like some folks did. Later when I went back to add studies to various chapters I could not find some of the articles anywhere on the electronic systems. Lazy librarians told me such articles obviously did not exist. That is where I learned how to find and work with gifted and cooperative librarians. (See earlier post).
Then I would produce the photo copy of the “non-existent article” and would get guidance. A long trip to the scary empty stacks room of old journals is sort of like one of the horror movies. Real bound paper copies of journals from up to sixty years ago. The lives of countless Ph.D. experts from decades ago locked away in dusty hard bound books. A year’s worth of soft cover journals were hard bound into one big book covering each year. No one else is down there- really quiet and you hear every sound from the furnace system. But a treasure trove of ideas and hard research carried out throughout the decades. Newer journals are now also transferred to computers. But many of the older ones are left in these big books and some of the really old ones were transferred to microfiche.
Previous researchers looked at things similar to what you are looking at. The information may not be exactly the same but close enough to direct your search, expand your search or back up what you are trying to prove. You may not find all of these gems on your electronic databases. You may find cases where you are answering questions posed by former intellectual explorers from decades ago. So much knowledge but it is hard to find since you have to read through a lot of tables of contents to find the journals for a particular month that involve your questions. Sometimes you will find a whole monthly edition that is just on your topic and that leads to other articles, authors and terminology that you can use to expand your search on the electronic databases. Different fields may call the same subject something else and knowing the terminology can expand your search and bring in supportive articles from outside your field. All of this detective work can expand what you are looking for, how you ask for it on electronic systems and point you to parallel work in totally different fields.
So sometimes you will have to look at dusty old books because they are too old to have been digitized due to library budgets. But old research is still good research. Remember these were professional researchers and many had a doctorate. Your committee will not let you use only really old materials but it can build on what you have and show a pattern recognized over the decades. Insight from the articles may open your eyes to new connections and possibilities. This technique helps when you are stone cold dead in your tracks and not sure what to do next. It can jump start your thinking processes even if all you do is argue with the results of the earlier research. You can look for more modern work by the researchers who you read about. Perhaps the researcher who wrote the article you are reading in 1960 also wrote more about it in the nineties. Open your mind and look at the possibilities and do not stop in your tracks because you cannot find easy research.
Lastly, make sure to tap into older professors outside of your committee. Set up an appointment and ask them face to face about your area of exploration. Spend ten minutes with them and be honest that you have hit a wall or need more research. Most can toss out ideas that will get you moving and many can give you an old book or journal from that area. They may also tell you to contact another professor perhaps from another college. Send this new person an email and tell them you were referred by professor such and such. Explain what you need and that you have hit a wall. Ask for help politely and earnestly. If you have an overpowering, controlling, egocentric committee, then forget about asking other professors. Most committees will have no problem with your looking for additional research sources just do not say anything to indicate that your committee has not been helpful.
So the moral of the story is that old things are not bad and can help you if you are stuck. Older professors told me years ago that many things move into and out of favor every thirty years or so. Each time they have the same theories but different names. I am not sure if this is true but I have seen things that were going out of style when I was young coming back around. I guess it could be true also for research. So, if you are stuck and lacking research for your area then poke around in the past and see what you can turn up. Learning to use a microfiche machine alone will raise your IQ. So much research has gone before you and so much yet to come. Do not let the lack of research results on the computerized systems end your hunt for supportive evidence.
Mind your goals,
National Doctoral Students Association.