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PHIL 430: Philosophical Methodology: Exploring Topics

Why should I use tertiary sources?

You might be wondering why a PHIL 430 student would consult tertiary sources such as subject encyclopedias.  The quick answer is that it can't hurt to make sure you have a good sense of how your research question fits in with other scholarly research that has been done. The resources listed on this page are of particular value to Philosophy students, as definitions and overviews found in general works may not always fit the philosophical meaning or lens.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a dynamic, online scholarly encyclopedia in which entries are kept up to date by an expert or groups of experts in the field.

Pay close attention to the very helpful bibliographies at the end of each entry for further exploration! Consulting a bibliography is an efficient way to make sure you know who the scholars are who've been working on your topic. 

Subject Encyclopedias in Philosophy

Start with these subject encyclopedias and branch out as needed. If your research question is interdisciplinary, you may wish to consult additional encyclopedias in other disciplines. Use the Research by Subject pages to explore more options.

Online Reference Collections

Featured Resource: Philosophy Compass

Philosophy Compass

Philosophy Compass publishes peer-reviewed survey articles exploring all branches of philosophy. Review articles summarize the current scholarship on a topic and offer an analysis. They can help you identify the scholars working on your topic, recent developments, current debates, gaps in research, and also give you an idea of where the research might be headed next.

Concept Map Overview

A concept map is:

  • a visual tool for generating and organizing ideas
  • a way to explore different aspects of a topic
  • a method for triggering word associations

Use a concept map to:

  • aid thinking at the beginning of the research process
  • create a visual overview of a topic
  • develop questions on a topic
  • reveal patterns, themes, and associations between ideas
  • generate search terms to conduct research

How to Create a Concept Map

Concept mapping is a great strategy to use as you develop your thesis. Concept mapping emphasizes relational thinking and can help you see the connections (or lack thereof) between the various elements of your research. 

Ask yourself: what do I already know about my topic? what am I curious about? what kind of information do I need, and where am I likely to find it?

Think about what the various perspectives are on this topic, and what you do or don't know about them.  Who is studying this topic? What types of research have been done? What connections could be made between these sources?

The process is simple: start with the subject of your research question in the center, then:

  • In the space around the central concept, write words or phrases for any relevant subtopics.
  • For each of your focus subtopics, add related terms/concepts to your map.
  • Continue to fill out your branches with ideas or questions about types of resources you may wish to start with.