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Identifying Unheard Voices: Strategies for Identifying Underrepresented Voices

The following guide provides an overview for identifying underrepresented voices and communities within research.

The following information search strategies are intended to help researchers and students identify and incorporate underrepresented voices and communities in research and group collaborative projects. Some of these strategies include:

  • Effectively using our Library search system with Subject searching & MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). 
  • Identifying contemporary community based groups using Social Media
  • Sorting content and information acquired via the open web using SIFT and lateral reading strategies..
  • Rethinking evidence and primary source materials.

Image Credit: "10246 Detective's Office" by Brickset is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Recommended Strategies for Identifying Diverse & Unheard Voices

Strategy #1:

Follow the Breadcrumbs: Using Subject Headings to Find Resources 

When looking for resources in the Gordon Library catalog, a good initial strategy to guide your search is using subject headings as your keywords. Subject headings are preferred, standardized terms developed by subject area experts, whereas 'keywords' are generally based upon natural or subjective language. In this way, Subject Headings are a kind of controlled vocabulary, and they form the organizational backbone of searchable platforms, which facilitate automated, efficient searching. Many libraries (WPI included) use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)--which are generated by the Library of Congress--as their preferred terms. As it relates to searching, the key difference is that Keyword searches look at most (if not all) of the words in a catalog record, but subject searches only look for words in the subject heading fields (6XX). As a result, subject searches are more precise, so subject search results will be more specific. For example, the image to the right displays some of the standardized Library of Congress Subject Headings for African-Americans; notice highlighted areas for variants (alternate wordings), broader & narrower terms (and notice the specificity these have. Now let’s try out some subject searching!

Searching example overview: Locating resources about environmental racism in the United States

Let's begin with an example--suppose you're interested in understanding the ecological impacts of economic development in predominantly Black communities in the US. Lately, you've heard a phrase in the news and on social media--environmental racism--and think that may be a good place to start searching to tie together your main topics (economic development, environmental impacts, Black communities). 

We begin with a few keyword searches based upon our initial search interests ('environmental racism'), with the understanding that we may have to do some digging around for other phrases or word combinations. Our preliminary search yields 256 results (see image below).

Not bad, but a quick survey suggests that not every resource seems relevant or useful. You know that you want something recent, something ‘academic’ (a book or a case study or a journal or a peer-reviewed resource), and something with an undercurrent of social justice. After a few scrolls down our results page, we can see a resource that may be helpful finding other resources (Is there a global environmental justice movement?; see image below).

We click on the resource, and within the ‘Details’ section of we can see a variety of SUBJECT search terms. In particular, we pull out these terms:

Environmental Justice

African Americans

We now redo our search, and while the results are much more expansive, they are decidedly more relevant. Further refining for ‘books’ yields 21 meaningful and very relevant works that may be helpful (see sample below).

Locating and highlighting diverse voices using Subject Headings

To find works written or informed by historically marginalized communities, begin by identifying the Subject Heading used for that class of person or ethnic group. The links below will direct users to the Library of Congress Subject Heading page (do not include "LCSH" in any of your searches). Some of the LCSH records include scope notes, broader and narrower terms, and other useful information that might help with your search strategies. Here are a few examples of LC subject terms:

Exploring Inclusive Vocabularies--Alternate Subject Headings Keywords: MeSH & Homosaurus

From the National Library of Medicine (US): "The Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) thesaurus is a controlled and hierarchically-organized vocabulary produced by the National Library of Medicine. It is used for indexing, cataloging, and searching of biomedical and health-related information. MeSH includes the subject headings appearing in MEDLINE/PubMed, the NLM Catalog, and other NLM databases". Crucially, MeSH phrases are only utilized in library records (WPI included) when a resource has a connection to public health or biomedical resources (see image below from the Gordon Catalog). Notice the keywords listed under subject (African-Americans--Health and Hygiene; Electronic Books) as compared to MeSH (Health-Services Accessibility; African-Americans; Healthcare Disparities; Racism). Employing the same logic from above, use these more precise terms from your initial search to conduct more targeted searching; see video below from Vanderbilt University for an introduction and overview to using MeSH.



MeSH Tutorial: 

From the homepage: "The Homosaurus is an international linked data vocabulary of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) terms. This vocabulary is intended to function as a companion to broad subject term vocabularies, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions are encouraged to use the Homosaurus to support LGBTQ research by enhancing the discoverability of their LGBTQ resources." Check out the video below from the University of Kentucky for an overview of using Homosaurus.

Project briefing on "Reimagine Descriptive Workflows"; Use of the Homosaurus at U Kentucky Libraries:


Strategy #2:

Identifying Underrepresented Community Spaces & Discourse Using Social Media (Twitter)

While many individuals and groups have traditionally been excluded--or literally erased--from accepted historical narratives, Social Media is increasingly becoming a tool which not only produces safe spaces for community interaction and development, but also raises the visibility of marginalized groups to a wider public. By now, many have heard of something like'BlackTwitter'which serves as a digital community space for African-Americans (particularly in the US; see image below). To beg the question, how many digital communities have you stumbled across in your social media travels?

To find online communities, now conduct a hashtag search. What's a hashtag? Okay boomer: a hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the # symbol that categorizes topics and helps make it easier to find information on the internet and on social media sites. In this example, we're looking at Twitter--a platform that makes wide use of hashtags--and thinking about the ways in which hashtags resemble keywords (albeit in a more natural language). The library recommends using the 'ADVANCED SEARH FEATURE' on Twitter to search through online conversations and community groups (see below).

To get researchers started, some common hashtags for communities and inclusive/ DEI topics are:

  • #ActuallyAutistic
  • #BlackGirlMagic
  • #BlackLivesMatter
  • #StopAsianHate
  • #NoJusticeNoPeace
  • #BlackBirders
  • #CiteASista
  • #CiteHerWork
  • #LoveIsLove
  • #BlackBotanists
  • #BlackInTheIvory
  • #Pride
  • #MeToo
  • #HeForShe
  • #WorkingPoverty
  • #PeopleFightingPoverty
  • #PoorPeoplesCampaign
  • #FoodInsecurity
  • #NoDAPL
  • #OscarSoWhite
  • #StopAsianHate
  • #WriteYourResistance

Strategy #3:

Lateral Reading like a Fact-Checker 

"Earlier research...has found that both professional historians and college undergraduates were far more easily duped by suspect websites than professional fact checkers. The big difference: Fact checkers read “laterally,” leaving a document and opening new tabs to run quick background checks on a source’s reputation, organizational ties and claims". -- E. Andrews

"As a fact-checker, your job is not to resolve debates based on new evidence, but to accurately summarize the state of research and the consensus of experts in a given area, taking into account majority and significant minority views".

-- M. Caufield

The following strategy--lateral reading--is a well known technique employed by professional fact-checkers while getting to the bottom of a resources legitimacy.  While lateral reading may not explicitly address the notion of 'underrepresentation', it can have value in this context, for (at least) two reasons:

  1. Any time you find information online through an open web-search, it is imperative that students think about lateral reading--especially if the resource is unknown. Given that the Library recommends using social media to identify contemporary digital  community spaces, we recommend further applying a lateral reading strategy to ANY information found via FB, Insta, Twitter, etc. See here for a cautionary tale.
  2. Moving between sources--as opposed to staying in one source--can be an effective strategy to help researchers serendipitously make connections to uncover more relevant speakers, resources, and perspectives.

As Michael A. Caulfield (Creator of the SIFT Method of Source Evaluation) suggests in 'Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers'

"When you start to read a book, a journal article, or a physical newspaper in the 'real world', you already know quite a bit about your source. You’ve subscribed to the newspaper, or picked it up from a newsstand because you’ve heard of it. You’ve ordered the book from Amazon or purchased it from a local bookstore because it was a book you were interested in reading. You’ve chosen a journal article either because of the quality of the journal article or because someone whose expertise and background you know cited it. In other words, when you get to the document you need to evaluate, the process of getting there has already given you some initial bearings" (Caufield).

In contrast, when readers are presented with an unfamiliar or unknown website or web resource, the process of evaluation may be daunting or unclear, while information about the site or resource itself may be opaque or worse still, misrepresentative of the creator, their intentions or agenda, or the likes . As such, "the solution, in the words of Sam Wineburg’s Stanford research team, [is] to 'read laterally'. Lateral readers don’t spend time on the page or site until they’ve first gotten their bearings by looking at what other sites and resources say about the source at which they are looking" (Caufield). In this way, the library recommends assuming the posture of amateur fact-checker by reading "'laterally' across many connected sites instead of digging deep into the site at hand" (Caulfield). As researcher Sam Wineburg describes "“What the bad actors want is your attention,” he said. “They believe that the longer they can get you to stay on the page, the easier it is to suck you into their vortex" (Wineburg).

For more on lateral reading, check out the short video below.

Resources related to Lateral Reading Techniques

Andrews, E. (2022).  "It doesn’t take long to learn how to spot misinformation online, Stanford study finds". Research Stories, The Stanford Graduate School of Education. 

Wineburg, S., Breakstone, J., McGrew, S., Smith, M. D., & Ortega, T. (2022). Lateral reading on the open Internet: A district-wide field study in high school government classes. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication


In a study conducted across an urban school district, we tested a classroom-based intervention in which students were taught online evaluation strategies drawn from research with professional fact checkers. Students practiced the heuristic of lateral reading: leaving an unfamiliar website to search the open Web before investing attention in the site at hand. Professional development was provided to high school teachers who then implemented six 50-minute lessons in a district-mandated government course. Using a matched control design, students in treatment classrooms (n = 271) were compared to peers (n = 228) in regular classrooms. A multilevel linear mixed model showed that students in experimental classrooms grew significantly in their ability to judge the credibility of digital content. These findings inform efforts to prepare young people to make wise decisions about the information that darts across their screens.

Strategy #4:

Re-thinking What Evidence Is and Where Its found 

"Is a star a document? Is a pebble rolled by a torrent a document? Is a living animal a document? No. But the photographs and the catalogues of stars, the stones in a museum of minerology, and the animals that are catalogued and shown in a zoo, are documents."

-- Suzanne Briet, What is Documentation? (1951)

When thinking about incorporating perspectives and voices from historically marginalized groups, its important to think about what constitutes evidence, which is to say, what exactly does documentation of activities or experience look like for groups which have been excluded from dominant social and historical narratives? Following the lead of documentation theorist Suzanne Briet, we encourage researchers to think broadly--and creatively--about what documentation or evidence is and where it can be found. In this sense, WPI librarians advocates for research which thinks expansively about evidence, and encourages researchers to think about alternate forms or types of resources. The following examples should serve as an introduction (with linked examples to the Gordon Catalog) to thinking beyond established sources--like Peer-Reviewed, Scholarly Articles--when attempting to represent the lived experiences of diverse communities.

Primary sources are firsthand or contemporary accounts of events or topics and an excellent way to identify voices of historically marginalized people. Primary sources include documents such as speeches, letters, diaries, and oral histories. Check out our guide to WPI Primary Sources Library Guide

To navigate to primary sources produced by underrepresented communities, try adding these subject subdivision terms to your keyword searching as a potential means of uncovering first person accounts. These additions will help target your search towards a type of source or kind of speaker communication (Note: Do not add 'LCSH' to your search).  

For a quick introduction to thinking about and effectively using evidence, check out this short video from Palm Beach State College Libraries: Using Evidence.

Beyond Peer-Review: Exploring Alternate Types of Resources: 


Book anthologies about and by diverse people are a good way to learn about diversity issues and to identify authors. Crumb Library has lots of anthologies, but it is not always easy to find them. 

Subject headings for anthologies are not widely used, so a better strategy is to search by KEYWORD "Anthology" and SUBJECT for a class of people or ethnic group.

For example, try keyword searching "Anthology" combined with SUBJECT "Gays" yields titles like:

Literature: Prose, Poetics, Plays

For experiential literatures (fiction, poetics), try adding Literary collections (LCSH) IS an authorized subject term and can be used in combination with classes of people, ethnic groups, individuals, etc.

For example: Search "Hispanic Americans" and "Literary collectionsyields titles like:


Documentaries can be an excellent source of evidence for the perspectives and experiences of often unseen or unheard groups.

The Gordon Library recommends exploring of video streaming platform, Academic Video Online; keyword searching "Documentaries" will queue a variety of video resources. Check them out!

Oral Histories 

According to the Society of American Archivists, an oral history is "An interview that records an individual's personal recollections of the past and historical events. The audio or video recordings, transcripts, and other materials that capture and are associated with such an interview" (SAA Dictionary Oral History).

There are many oral history repositories with digitized collections accessible to researchers; some examples include:

Oral Histories Archives, Raynor Memorial Libraries, Marquette University

  • BIRTHING PROJECT ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION, 1990-1997, 1.3 feet. Interviews with 69 women about their birthing experiences, transcribed and archived under assumed names to protect the privacy of the narrators.

Columbia Center for Oral History, Columbia University Library.

Strategy #5:

Creating a Matrix of Relevant Community Stakeholders

If you are researching within the context of a project and having trouble identifying whose voices may be present (but obscured), it can be helpful to create a simple community matrix to orient your work. The goal of creating a matrix is not to create an exhaustive list of community groups and their essential features, but to simply understand who may be considered as 'part of the conversation'. In this way, the stakeholder matrix helps to situate community groups, their histories, cultures, values, and levels of influence in relation to other groups. The following matrix should serve as an initial model, with relevant questions listed below.

Stakeholder #1 Stakeholder #2 Stakeholder #3 Stakeholder #4
Demographic Info
Historical Info
Cultural Info


[Barriers/ Impediments]
  • Impact: How much does the project impact them? (Low, Medium, High)
  • Influence: How much influence do they have over the project? (Low, Medium, High)
  • Priorities: What is important to the stakeholder?
  • Contributions: How could the stakeholder contribute to the project?
  • [Barriers/ Impediments: How could the stakeholder block the project?]