I have thought a lot lately about how I do research. It seems so often I end up accidentally stumbling onto the most formative essays and articles for my research. This is fortuitous, but how can I research in a more systematic and effective way? Well, I don’t know, but I feel it is worthwhile to tell you how I go about it and see if you (all) have something to add. So, when I begin research on a chapter/section of my thesis (in Pauline theology), this is how it generally goes:
1. Consider the most important terms and concepts related to my chapter (so, currently, PAUL, APOSTLESHIP, IDENTITY).
2. The first thing I do is try to collect a bibliography to read through. This is sometimes the most difficult part if the area of research is not well-covered and/or if there is no standard way of referring to the subject matter. Ben Byerly (see comments) reminded me that monograph bibliographies are great places to find basic reading lists; also the reviews of literature in theses.
A. Search Tyndale House catalog on key terms (PAUL, APOSTLE, IDENTITY). Why Tyndale House? It is restricted to Biblical Studies and they are pretty comprehensive. Also, they have listed a large number of theses from places like Oxbridge, some of which have not been subsequently published. Anyway, it is a good place to begin (see http://www.tyncat.com). After Tyndale I also check out Harvard’s HOLLIS catalog.
B. Check bibliography of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IVP). There is almost certainly going to be an article on any Pauline topic and the bibios will have all the seminal works in English and some in German.
C. Check ATLA (at first all the full-text stuff to get immediately accessible literature; then another search for all the stuff). Write down all interesting entries related to key terms.
D. Do the same on JSTOR.
E. Do the same on Googlescholar and Googlebooks. Googlebooks, in particular, has yielded for me dozens and dozens of books that I would have never thought to look up. It has been absolutely invaluable. If you are not searching googlebooks for relevant literature, you are really missing out.
F. Search other Dictionaries (on LOGOS I have TDNT, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Dictionary of NT Backgrounds, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery); see also the new NEW INTERPRETER’S DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE. Also, the DICTIONARY FOR THE THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE (Baker), but it usually has very short entries with bibliographies that are not anymore helpful than DPL.
G. Sometimes I will try amazon.com and search on key terms and look for full-search books. Not often that helpful.
H. Sometimes I get on SAGE journals and do a search – usually it yeilds too many non-theological items to be helpful.
What else is helpful for others in compiling reading lists for your research? I should also mention the utilility of asking the blogging community – I have received some very helpful tips – thanks!