1. If you have not yet begun your research, stop now. Step away from Outlook. Do not pass go, do not send an e-mail to the listserv.
2. Head directly to the major bibliographies, reference works, and databases for your discipline/topic, whether the MLA Bibliography, the Royal Historical Society database, the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, or something else. Exhaust all of the standard avenues for finding relevant source materials.
3. If you are an undergraduate or graduate student and find yourself stuck, ask the faculty member(s) supervising your work for assistance. Then return to #2. Always remember that finding primary and secondary sources is part of the learning experience, not an inconvenient add-on. Remember, too, that your library should host an individual known as a "research librarian." (Students are not the only ones who need to remember this salient fact.)
5. Does your question look like the following?
a) "I'm researching Victorian attitudes to women. Could you give me any useful pointers?"
b) "My current project involves religion in the Romantic era. Has anybody written on this topic since M. H. Abrams?"
c) "I'd like to write a research paper about Victorian women poets. Is there an especially good poet I should choose?"
If so, do not pass go, do not send a question to the listserv. If you do send a question to the listserv, go directly to jail.
6. Read Scott's parody.
7. Do some more reading.
8. Reformulate your question:
"I'm writing an essay on Victorian attitudes to Anglican sisterhoods, especially in the late nineteenth century, and I'm having a hard time finding firsthand accounts. I'm familiar with both Victorian commentaries by women like Anna Jameson and the current scholarship (Susan Mumm, for example), but I've checked the Wellesley Index, Poole's, and historical databases, as well as WorldCat and COPAC, and I can't pull up any autobiographical narratives. Can someone out there suggest what I'm missing? Are there additional keywords I should try?"
Or, to break this down:
a) Ask a very specific question, not a very general question.
b) Demonstrate that you have checked the relevant bibliographies, reference works, and databases.
c) Show that you are already familiar with the basic primary and secondary texts in your chosen area.
d) Don't just ask for "the answer"; ask about different ways of finding answers.