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The favourite part of every librarian's job is to sit down with students and faculty and help them find the information they require.  Many  users, however, want to do their own research and so this guide has been developed to assist them in the process.  It takes the best tips librarians have and passes them on to you.  If you follow threm carefully, not only will you become a better researcher-but you will experience the fun librarians have almost every day.  Enjoy.

Think Concepts

Before you start:

  • understand the key terms you may be using as well as the general area that interests you;
  • think about ways to narrow your topic, making it as specific as possible (unless you have been given a specific topic to research!).  Why?  The narrower your focus, the less extraneous research you have to review.
  • create a thesis statement;
  • list  the main concepts (key words) included in your thesis statement (research question) and here's a tip, unlike searching Google, at the start try, to limit your keywords to two or three and avoid using vague concepts such as "cause" or "effect" or "why",...
  • find as many synonyms as you can for each main concept. You are now ready to start searching in the library's catalogue and databases.

When you are looking for definitions or if you don’t know much about a specific subject, reference works such as dictionaries and encyclopedias become invaluable because they contain relatively short—and understandable—articles. These articles often lay out the parameters of a subject and can assist you in trying to narrow your topic. Often such articles are accompanied by lists of readings (bibliographies) which allow you to explore your topic further.

Example:  Is post secondary education worth it?

  • The key terms are "post secondary education" and "worth"  The general area is...Education...but maybe Economics or Sociology
  • Narrow your topic.  How about  start with "university education"  That term will exlude all forms of college and career education.
  • Create a thesis statement: While many students graduate from university heavily in debt, over the course of their life-time, their income will be higher than students with only secondary school qualifications because the highest paying jobs tend to require university education.
  • Key words; university education AND worth
  • Synonyms.  universty or college (the US term); worth or value.


Think Sources

The library has several categories of sources that you may wish to use.  Here are the most common:

Books.  Often referred to as "monographs" because of their scholarly nature, books are now purchased both in print and, increasingly, in electronic format.  You will want to use a book if you are looking for an extensive, in-depth treatment of a topic.   Of course, even parts of books can be useful. You should always check to see which titles are available  and then make a beeline to the book's index to find relevant material.

Dissertations. A dissertation is what a scholar must produce to secure a Ph.D. or equivalent.  (A thesis is typically what is produced at the Master's level). In many ways a dissertation is like a book--and some are transformed into books and published professionally.

Journal Articles...Not to be confused with magazine articles.  True, such articles have their place for those doing research on current topics, but peer reviewed academic articles are de rigueur if you are doing serious academic research.  to learn more about peer reviewing.

Because they are shorter than books, journal articles usually only focus on a  particular aspect of a subject.  If you are having trouble narrowing your topic, you may instead uncover a scholarly article that interests you.  And of course, since it has been peer reviewed, it comes with a bibliography which you can then use to jump start the rest of your research!

Data.  Over the years, various levels of government have played an important role in the collection of information, especially data.  If you need data to help make your case, then you will likely need information collected by the government.  Increasingly governments are making more and more of their data available only on the Web.