How to do Research on Women Studies

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women-studies-1How to do research on women studies? A vast accumulation of timely and historical research on women’s studies exists, discussing their changing roles in society, their standards of living, their sacrifices, suffrage, and their accomplishments in various areas and in every period of history. Thanks to a wide array of print and electronic sources, research paper writers today can learn all about women of the past and women of today.

There is little about the history or psychology of women that isn’t researchable via books, articles, newsletters, professional journals, studies by government and nonprofit agencies, and comprehensive reports on policies and practices of and against women. For further study of this expanding discipline, the following is a list of recommended sources.

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Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms as well when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to the topic of your research paper.

Suggested Research Topics

  • African American Women
  • Caribbean Fiction—Women authors
  • Family
  • Feminism
  • Feminists
  • Feminist Theory
  • Hispanic American Women
  • Indian Women
  • Latin American Literature—Women authors
  • Lesbianism
  • Lesbians
  • Mothers
  • Sex Discrimination against Women
  • Sex Role
  • Women
  • Women—[country name]
  • Women—Artists
  • Women—Authors
  • Women and Literature
  • Women and Religion
  • Women—Education
  • Women in Politics
  • Women’s Rights
  • Women’s Studies
  • Women—United States history

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your research paper topic.

If your topic is “differences in wages between men and women work force,” for example, then combine “women” and “wage gap” with “and” in the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find additional research on more specific aspects of your topic, from your list of keywords that you developed alternate with one new keyword at a time with “and” in between (for example, “women and equality and wages,” “women and history and wages,” “women and men and wages,” women and occupations and wages,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your searching, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to the subject of your research paper.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

women-studies-2As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your topic, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include

Information Sources in Women’s Studies and Feminism, edited by Hope A. Olson, 189 pages (Munich, Germany: K.G. Saur, 2002)

What About Women? Information Sources for Women’s Studies, by Ruth Cowley, 106 pages (Manchester, U.K.: Fanfare Press, 1984)

Woman in America: A Guide to Information Sources, by Virginia R. Terris, 520 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 1980)

Women’s Studies: A Guide to Information Sources, by Sarah Carter and Maureen Ritchie, 278 pages (New York: Mansell; Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990)

Women’s Studies: Guide to Reference Sources (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1999)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to your subject.

Selected Books and References


The Columbia Guide to American Women in the Nineteenth Century, by Catherine Clinton and Christine Lunardini, 364 pages (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000)

This book covers its subject matter with engaging biographical essays, a chronology of events, and detailed overviews with lists of primary source materials for further reference.

Reader’s Guide to Women’s Studies, edited by Eleanor B. Amico, 732 pages (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998)

Easy-to-use subject index to a diverse collection of books about women, with substantial bibliographic essays surveying more than 500 topics. As of 2007, this volume is also available in a Kindle edition.

Chronologies, Encyclopedias, and Histories

Chronology of Women’s History, by Kirstin Olsen, 532 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994)

Provides international year-by-year coverage of 5,000 notable women and the landmark events in women’s history, from 20,000 BC to 1993. Areas discussed include athletics and exploration, activism, business and industry, education and scholarship, general status and daily life, government, law, literature, visual arts, military, performing arts and entertainment, science and medicine, and religion.

Encyclopedia of Women’s History in America, 2nd ed., by Kathryn Cullen-DuPont, 418 pages (Facts On File, 2000)

This authoritative encyclopedia covers the full scope of events and issues that affected women throughout American history. Topics include major court cases, significant legislation, important organizations, and influential women. Lists of bibliographic sources follow each entry. An appendix offers complete texts of reports, documents, and recent court cases and legislation.

Feminism: A Reference Handbook, by Judith Harlan, 308 pages (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1998)

Offered in both print and electronic form, this handbook details a wide range of subjects important to the study of feminism and women’s history. Included are biographical sketches of famous feminists, a chronology of important events, facts about feminist issues, a directory of organizations, print sources and nonprint sources, and overviews on such subjects as economics, education, politics, and social changes for women.

Handbook of American Women’s History, 2nd ed., edited by Angela M. Howard and Frances M. Kavenik, 744 pages (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 2000)

This revised and updated edition offers brief articles about significant people, events, books and periodicals, concepts, and organizations in the history of American women. Each entry provides relevant definitions, discussion of significant historical facts, and a brief bibliography of sources. The book’s introduction also references other established sources in women’s studies, including monographs, and collections of primary sources beneficial to students and researchers.

The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History, edited by Wilma Mankiller, 696 pages (Boston: Houghton Miffl in Co., 1998)

Offering a strong feminist perspective, this book features 400 in-depth articles by some 300 leading historians examining a broad spectrum of issues. In 1999, a revised paperback edition was published by Mariner Books.

Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge, edited by Cheris Kramarae and Dale Spender, 4 vols., 2,288 pages (New York: Routledge, 2000)

This four-volume reference set extensively details the concerns, theories, and practices of women from a global point of view. Entries focus on regional topics and feminist ideas but offer no biographical information on leading feminists and pioneers in the women’s movement. However, each article-length entry features a list of references for further reading. Also available in a Kindle book edition.

Women’s Issues, edited by Margaret McFadden, 3 vols., 1,041 pages (Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 1997)

This three-volume encyclopedia has much to offer for students and researchers studying women’s issues. Each section features entries extensively cross-referenced to other related topics. Additional entries include annotated bibliographies of major sources, and appendixes offer other useful information, such as directories of research centers for women’s studies and women’s organizations and a chronology of events in U.S. women’s history.

Women’s Studies Encyclopedia, 3rd ed., edited by Helen Tierney, 3 vols., 1,607 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999)

Revised and expanded three-volume set with essay-length entries covering women’s contributions to art, literature, philosophy, learning, religion, science, and others. Each article ends with a list of references and suggested sources for further study or more detailed information. The entire set was also republished in electronic form as a Kindle book.

Statistical References

American Women: Who They Are and How They Live, 4th ed., 413 pages (Ithaca, N.Y.: New Strategist Publications, 2008)

This impressive updated reference contains statistical tables, arranged by category, on a variety of subjects relating to women, including attitudes, education, health, income, labor force, living arrangements, spending, and more. Referenced after each table is the source of data in context. Brief summaries introduce each chapter.

Statistical Handbook on Women in America, 2nd ed., compiled and edited by Cynthia M. Taeuber, 354 pages (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1996)

Useful for making historical comparisons of the social and historical progress of women, this revised and expanded edition, presented in statistical tables format, offers a portrait of American women based on government sources, including U.S. census data, among others.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Contemporary Women’s Issues (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 1992– )

Contemporary Women’s Issues provides full-text Web access to journals, newsletters, and research reports from nonprofit groups, government and international agencies, and fact sheets with global information focused on cultural, social, and human rights issues affecting women in more than 150 countries. Updated biweekly, this database covers such disciplines as business administration, education, health, political science, psychology, and sociology.

Expanded Academic ASAP (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Covers all academic disciplines, including the arts, humanities, social sciences, business, science, and technology.

General Reference Center (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Also known as InfoTrac, General Reference Center features mostly full-text articles and abstracts of articles found in hundreds of magazines, newspapers, and reference books. Updated daily, coverage is from 1980 to the present.

Ingenta (Cambridge, Mass.: Ingenta, Inc., 1988– )

Online database and comprehensive index of journal literature containing more than 14 million articles from more than 26,000 journals, with coverage back to 1988.

LexisNexis Academic Universe (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1977– )

Full-text article database covering current events, legal information, and news related to women and women’s rights.

ProjectMUSE (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990– )

Contains the contents of more than 100 electronic full-text journals by a wide array of academic publishers. Covers literature and criticism, history, the visual and performing arts, cultural studies, education, political science, gender studies, and more.

Social Sciences Full Text (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., WilsonWeb/Ovid Technologies, Inc., indexing: February 1983– , abstracting: January 1994– , full text: January 1995–)

Contains a wide range of English-language full-text articles from more than 163 social sciences and sociology journals and abstracts from more than 700 leading scholarly publications.

Sociological Collection (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, 1965– )

Full-text database of 580 peer-reviewed publications focusing on all areas of sociology, including human and social behavior.

Selected Periodicals

Feminist Studies: FS (College Park, Md.: Feminist Studies, 1972– , three times a year)

Beginning publication in summer 1972, Feminist Studies: FS is dedicated to publishing “serious writing of a critical, scholarly, speculative, and political nature.” Each issue includes commentaries, manifestos, position papers, reports, and strategies for change representing a range of disciplines. Tables of contents are viewable online from 1981 to the present. To access, visit

Journal of Women’s History (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1989–2003)

Originally published three times a year by Indiana University Press, this serious scholarly journal is focused on women’s history and women’s experience. Tables of contents can be found at Full-text contents of the journal are available on ProjectMUSE from 1989 to the last issue in 2003.

MS. (New York: Matilda Publications, 1972–89; Lang Communications, 1990–98; Liberty Media, 1998–2001; Arlington, Va.: Feminist Majority Foundation, 2001– , monthly)

Enduring four different owners and sporadic financial instability since its debut in 1972, MS. magazine has helped shape contemporary feminism, and advanced issues relating to women’s rights, women’s status, and women’s points of view. Founded by Gloria Steinem and others, MS. provides in-depth analysis and reporting of international women’s issues. Subjects include environmental feminism, women’s work styles, and the politics of emerging technologies.

Psychology of Women Quarterly (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976– , quarterly)

This scholarly feminist journal features qualitative and quantitative research, critical reviews, theoretical articles, and book reviews focused on the psychology of women and gender. Topics relate to career choice and training, physical and mental health, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, prejudice and discrimination, violence and harassment, as well as a variety of ethnic and minority issues. Issues are indexed and abstracted in such online article databases as Academic Search Elite, Expanded Academic ASAP, Current Contents, Feminist Periodicals, and others.

Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975– , quarterly)

Recognized as a leading international journal in women’s studies, Signs, first published in 1975, publishes analytical and scholarly articles discussing such issues as class, culture, gender, race, and sexuality with regard to women. Published quarterly by the University of Chicago Press, Signs focuses on a wide range of disciplines, theories, and methodologies. Issues are now available in print and online. Tables of contents of past issues since 1975 are viewable online at

The Women’s Review of Books (Wellesley, Mass.: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1983– , monthly)

Published monthly except August, The Women’s Review of Books reviews the latest books by and about women, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Each issue includes commentaries and criticisms, interviews, letters, and lists of new books. Back issues are unavailable online, but the tables of contents are, from 2006 to the present. To access, visit Issues dated three years earlier are available through JSTOR.

Women’s Studies (New York: Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 1972– , eight times a year)

An interdisciplinary journal published eight times yearly offering a scholarly and critical review of women in all fields, including anthropology, art, history, law, literature, political science, and sociology. Issues also feature book and film reviews and women’s poetry. Tables of contents of current issues are available through Ingenta.

Women’s Studies Quarterly (New York: Feminist Press, 1981– , quarterly)

Originally published as a four-page newsletter, this leading journal offers scholarly discussions of issues of great importance to educators specializing in the field of women’s studies. Published by The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, the journal features articles, bibliographies, classroom teaching aids, essays, sources for course and program development, and various themes of interest to women’s studies practitioners with an international perspective.

Selected Web Sites

American Women’s History: A Research Guide (

Great site developed by Ken Middleton of the Todd Library at Middle Tennessee State University listing digital collections, bibliographies, book reviews, and links to biographical sources, online journals, and other resources celebrating American women’s history.

Ithaca College Women’s Studies (

Features a variety of resources with links concerning feminist theory and women’s history.

National Women’s History Project (

Recognizing and celebrating women’s accomplishments throughout the years, the National Women’s History Project, an educational nonprofit organization, provides direct access on its Web site to women’s history information, news and events, and other resources.

Women in the United States (

Offers gender-specific data and information—by geographic location—derived from the 1997 Economic Census, the American Community Survey, the 1990 Decennial Census, and the Census 2000 Dress Rehearsal.

Women’s Studies Database (

Offered by the University of Maryland, this Web site for women’s studies researchers and students alike contains links to bibliographies, conferences, history, film reviews, reading and reference rooms, and academic papers, articles, books, and other resources.

Women’s Studies Online Resources (

Annotated directory of women’s studies with Web links to women- or gender-related discussion lists, and women’s studies programs and research centers worldwide. Site is maintained by the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Women’s Studies Program.

Women’s Studies Resources (

Extensive collection developed by the University of York Library of links to Internet resources on women’s studies in the areas of health, history, science and technology, and women’s rights.

Women’s Studies/Women’s Issues Resource Sites (

Highly acclaimed site, maintained by Joan Korenman at Michigan State University, that contains a list of Web sites and other resources with useful information about women’s studies and women’s issues.

WSSLinks: Women and Gender Studies Web Sites (

Developed and maintained by Women’s Studies Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, this site lists a variety of sites and resources by individual subject devoted to women’s studies.

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