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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman, Director 2505 University Avenue, A4900, Burdine Hall 536, Austin Texas 78712 • 512-471-5765

Step 2: Prepare for Research

Suffrage demonstration

Women's suffrage demonstrators being arrested. From Jailed for Freedom by Doris Stevens, 1920. Harry Ransom Center rare book collection. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

Books, Articles, and Websites

Read up on your topic before starting to look at archives. This will help you understand the terms and names you find mentioned there.

Try browsing for books, articles, and websites about the place and time that gave rise to your chosen collection.  Here are some places to start your search:

Finding Aids

It is also important to look at the finding aid associated with the collection.  Finding aids are descriptions of the content and context of archival materials. Check to see whether your collection has a finding aid available at the TARO (Texas Archival Resources Online) website or the website of the individual repository.  If not, wait until you visit the repository, then ask the archivist at the desk whether there is a finding aid for your chosen collection. 

Not all archives have finding aids - some physical materials are only described in a card catalog, and some online archives are described and searched in other ways.

Some important sections in a typical finding aid are:

  • Biographical or historical note: Read this section carefully for information about the person or organization that created the materials.
  • Scope and contents note: Read this section for a narrative description of the contents of different parts of the collection.  Identify which materials sound the most interesting and relevant to your research topic.
  • Box and folder inventory: Use this section to identify particular boxes or folders to view.  This can be a long list, so use the descriptions from the scope and contents note to narrow it down.

Go to Step 3: View the Collection

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