Conducting research abroad

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Even with the wealth of information online, many researchers still travel for work; not all libraries or museums have digital catalogs, and some resources simply must be visited in person.  As you can imagine, this presents some unique challenges, especially if you travel to places that use languages other than your own.  

Here are some recommendations for conducting research abroad:

Keep a translation app handy

While a translation app doesn’t replace the benefit of having an actual human translator, it can help alleviate some of the stress of navigating through a foreign catalog. Google’s translation app, for example, can translate words in real time using your phone camera; you just hold it over the text you want to translate (or take a photo), and it will translate the words for you. You can download the languages ahead of time, in case you have limited internet access. 

Study their cataloguing system

Classification systems vary internationally, so this is one thing you can study ahead of time to be more prepared when you get there. When in doubt, check their library website.

Reach out ahead of time

Communicate with researchers, locals, or scholars in the region you’re visiting. They may offer to help with translation, or help you navigate through local collections.

Document your findings the best you can 

If you’re visiting a library or museum temporarily, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to bring their resources back with you. Be ready to document your findings thoroughly: take pictures, scan documents, and record ideas so that you don’t miss anything when you return home.

Visit locations to get a sense of space and layout

If you're doing research for a historical novel, for instance, be sure to spend time visiting the places featured in your story. Knowing what your characters would have seen firsthand will give your story depth and rich details, and you can ensure that you're using factual information since you'll be at the actual location yourself. Writing about the Roman Colosseum, for example, is much more interesting (and easier) when you've seen it yourself, to accurately capture the scope of it.


Learn more research tips and tricks in The Citizen's Guide to Research, out now!