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Research in the Art LIbrary

A guide to arts-related resources and digital image collections for use in research and writing

Writing for Art & Art History

The following guides to art research and writing can help you develop your visual analysis skills and writing style.

The Writing Process

Getting Started:

You may choose to focus on an artist, a work of art, an art movement, or consider a larger theme that encompasses multiple artists, works, or periods, based on your course assignment. Whatever your topic, be sure to formulate an engaging thesis statement to grab your reader. Placed in the introduction, your thesis should clarify exactly what you wish to argue or demonstrate throughout the rest of the paper.

Conducting Research:

When you have chosen a topic, begin gathering relevant resources from the library's collections of books and journals. Use Database Finder for online access to journal articles and digital image collections.  Once you have a good sense of your research begin outlining your argument.

Citing your Sources:

It is extremely important to cite the resources used in your research, both in the text and in the bibliography page at the end of your paper.  Generally, footnotes or endnotes, rather than parenthetical (in-text) citations, are used for art research papers. The ARt History and ARchaeology program uses the Chicago Style to format footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies, and the table of contents. Check out this guide to general citation practices, and our guide to art history citations.  Using a bibliographic citation manager as you begin your work is extremely useful and makes citations simple.


Writing for art and art history is usually formal in style and analytical in content. Following the guidelines provided by your professor, you will likely need to devote a significant portion of your paper to visually analyzing one or more works of art. The guides to writing about art in the left-hand column of this page will help you hone your visual analysis and writing skills.


This final step before submitting your paper is one of the most important. The editing process can turn a mediocre paper into an engaging and professional one. The first step is to read through it several times on your own, both silently and aloud. Reading aloud will make any awkward constructions or run-on sentences apparent. If you can, have a friend read your paper to catch the mistakes you missed. You can also take your paper to the English Department's Writing Center where a trained student will help you edit your paper for free!

Formatting your Paper:

Consult the guidelines provided by your professor for this particular course. Your syllabus should indicate which style manual you should use. In general, your paper should include an introduction, a body of several or many paragraphs to develop your thesis statement, a conclusion, and a bibliography. You will likely need to include an appendix of images discussed in your paper.


Methods & Historiography

What is art history? How do scholars conduct research and write about art history today? How did they do so in the past? These are the types of questions answered in the following texts on art historical methodologies and historiographies. Essentially, these texts present the history of art history and the methods of writing used in the past and present. You may write a paper with an eye toward the social history of art, adhere to iconographic analysis in the tradition of Erwin Panofsky, or use a combination of methods -- the choice is yours, unless specified by your professor.

Basic Library Skills

The following guides to information resources address a variety of basic questions about the research process: