Theses, dissertations and conference proceedings are valuable information sources, particularly for graduate-level music research. Because they are not intended for publication, these sources are free to cover topics that may not be commercially viable for a published scholarly book. However, this also makes them harder for other scholars to find!
Owing to the frustration they sometimes engender, these sources are known as "gray literature". That name is somewhat misleading, suggesting these sources are more ambiguous or less trustworthy than books or articles. It might be more accurate to think of them as documents produced by scholars at an early stage of their research.
The authors of these early-stage research outputs may go on to modify their work for scholarly articles, chapters, or books, advancing their ideas and subjecting them to rigorous peer review. Depending on your research situation, you may want to cite those more formal research products - or these early-stage works may be just what you need!
Theses written by Bachelors or Masters students typically focus on specific and original topics. Sometimes, the only available analysis of a specific musical work may be a thesis written by a performance major.
Today, undergraduate theses are often archived in institutional repositories, specialized databases providing open access to a University's research output. For example, University of Redlands students can contribute their capstone papers and theses to InSPIRe.
Dissertations written by doctoral students are a great way to learn about research topics and techniques of emerging interest. Dissertations include discussion of the research method chosen, and a comprehensive literature review summarizing what is already known about the topic and the gap that the researcher hopes to fill.
Today most theses and dissertations are published online, often in institutional repositories. However, many historical theses and dissertations are only available in printed or microfilm format, often through the library or archive at the author's home campus.
Scholars often explore a new research interest by presenting a talk or paper at a conference or academic symposium, where they can generate discussion and receive feedback from other scholars.
Noteworthy conferences and symposiums were sometimes documented in conference proceedings. Proceedings are printed books containing a summary paper of each presentation, or at least an abstract. They were published in limited editions and often held by only a few research libraries.
Today, many conferences are archived on the internet. Searching for the association that sponsors a conference may turn up a website dedicated to the conference, containing an abstract of each session, and, if you're exceptionally lucky, the full text of an accompanying paper or even a session recording.
Try these steps to find theses and dissertations on your research topic:
Try these strategies for finding conference proceedings, symposiums and other "gray literature":