This course guide can help with research in ESLA 1300, 1500, or 1900. It includes information from library workshops for ESLA classes, and some additional ideas.
Before starting a search, remember to do "pre-research" to better understand your research context, to narrow down a research topic, and to find synonyms for your search keywords.
Remember that your professors will usually not consider Wikipedia a valid source for you to cite in your assignments.
But... you can still use Wikipedia as a beginning step to
- help decide on a topic
- become familiar with a topic and the vocabulary used to talk about this topic
- get easy to understand definitions of academic words and phrases
Watch our short video on Using Wikipedia Wisely:
Encyclopedias and reference handbooks that the library has in the collection are good academic sources to start your research. They can help to narrow down your topic, or understand new words. The library has access to some databases that contain multiple academic encyclopedias.
You can use these databases by searching for a key word or topic idea in the main search box, or you can choose a subject-focused encyclopedia in the collection to search or browse through.
Other Starting Points
You can find more help with starting your research in the library subject guides.
Too big a topic? Too narrow a topic? How to get it just right:
- If you choose to research a topic that is too broad, or has too large of a scope, you will find too much information and find it hard to form an argument or answer a specific question.
- If you choose to research a topic that is too narrow/specific you won't be able to find enough information to answer your research question.
- Start by choosing a general research topic
- Do some background research to narrow the scope and pick a research question.
- A narrower topic will make it easier to search for sources later on, and to know what keywords, dates, locations, or disciplines of study are important for your research.
|Try this exercise to see if you can tell if a research question is too broad, too narrow or just right!
credit: SUNY Empire State College https://www.esc.edu
Tips to help narrow a topic:
You may find it easy to identify subtopics by looking at encyclopedia articles, textbooks, or other library sources. If you have trouble narrowing a topic, you can try using these strategies:
- Choose a specific aspect or sub-group to study
- Instead of studying all people, look at adolescents specifically
- Instead of studying all online communication, look at email specifically
- Instead of studying all cars, look at SUVs specifically
- Choose a specific place or a narrower location
- Instead of studying all of East Asia, look at China specifically
- Instead of studying alll of Canada, look at Ontario specifically
- Choose a specific time - a shorter length of time will be more specific
- Finding information about a specific time period can be difficult - do a test search to make sure this is useful for your topic
- Instead of studying all time, look at the most recent 20 years specifically
- Instead of studying the 20th century, look at the 1980s specifically
- Choose two perspectives or variables and compare them, or look for a relationship (such as a cause and effect)
- Compare your topic in a modern/contemporary setting and a historical setting
- Compare groups to individuals
- Compare men and women
- Compare two different locations
Need more help with your Research Question? Try these:
- How to write a research question : includes examples of clear and unclear questions
- Writing a good research question: also has examples
- Research question examples: a number of examples of how to turn bad research questions into better ones
- Developing a research question: brief video, explains how a topic relates to a research question
- Developing a research question: animated video with good examples
Once you have narrowed down your research topic or research question, you can create a search to find more information.
Create a Search
First, identify the key ideas in your research topic. These should be important ideas from your topic, and should usually be changed into noun format. Many research topics will compare two or more ideas, or try to find the relationship between two or more ideas. Usually, the idea of comparison or a relationship or impact is not included in the search.
Put each idea keyword in (parentheses) separated by AND. Then find synonyms for the idea keywords, by brainstorming (thinking) or looking at research starting points. Add those synonyms inside the parentheses, separated by OR.
- Research topic
- (idea 1) AND (idea 2) AND (idea 3)
- (idea 1 OR idea one) AND (idea 2 OR idea two) AND (idea 3 OR idea three)
- Is consumerism sustainable as the population grows?
- (consumerism) AND (sustainability) AND (population growth)
- (consumerism OR overconsumption) AND (sustainability) AND (“population growth” OR “population increase” OR overpopulation)
- How does culture influence communication in international business negotiations between China and the United Sates
- (culture) AND (negotiation) AND (China) AND (United States)
- (culture) AND (negotiation OR business) AND (China) AND (United States OR America)
A search with more key ideas will find less results. Sometimes it can be useful to start with two or three ideas, and add more if you need to.
Remember that keywords that are phrases made of more than one word should be inside "quotation marks".
You can use your search string in Omni, the search box on the Library Home Page. Omni is a smart search engine that is good at finding results for your key words, like Google. You can also try your search in Google Scholar, or a subject specific database. Find subject specific databases by looking at the library subject guides.
Watch our short video: Search Tips: Boolean searching, wildcards, and more
The most important part of a search is finding information that answers your research question. Remember to always look for results that are related to your topic, reliable information, and readable for you.
Remember to save the citation for the information you want to use. Try copying and saving the citation or emailing it to yourself from Omni. Remember that Omni citations are just a starting point, and you will have to correct the citation.
For help with detailed APA citation,:
For help with IEEE citation:
Make sure results are related to your topic by looking at the title and the summary to find your keywords. Ask yourself if the keywords are used in the right context. When you read the sentence, does it match the ideas from your research question?
If you're looking at a book, look at the subject words to make sure the main idea of the book is your research topic.
If you're looking at a journal article, try to find the keywords to make sure the author's main idea is your research topic. Remember, not all articles will have keywords.
Make sure the content type (book, journal article, news article, website) is useful for your research question and your context. Remember that academic research usually uses books and journal articles. Read your assignment carefully to see if your instructor asked for a certain type of information.
Make sure the information isn't out of date for your research topic and context. If it is too old, it may not be reliable.
If the information is from a website or news article find the source of the information. Ask yourself:
- Where did the information come from? Is it a person or organization that is reliable?
- Did they do research? Can you find citations?
- Why did the author write this information? Are they trying to sell something? Do they want to change your opinion?
Watch our 2 short videos:
Evaluating online information using the C.R.A.P test, Part 1
Evaluating online information using the C.R.A.P test, Part 2
Make sure you have access to the information. If it's an article, can you find the full text PDF? If it's a print book, is it in the library?
Make sure the writing isn't too technical. Can you understand the summary?
When you're reading your search results, try to think of how you can improve your search to find more "good" results.
Change your keywords
Look at the titles and summaries of the results to find the keywords in your search. If some of the keywords show up in a lot of not-so-good results, you can remove them from your search.
In the "good" results, try to find new synonyms or keywords to add to your search.
Change the options in Omni
You can use the search options on the left side of Omni to change your search and find more "good" results.
Limit your search to the content types you want to find. For academic research, "Journal Article" and "Book / eBook" are usually helpful.
Choose one or two disciplines to find results that are about your research topic. Remember that different disciplines sometimes use the same words for different ideas.
If many results are out of date for your research context, limit the publication date to find information from the best time.
Change where you search
To find information in a specific content type, look at a list of databases by type. News databases are usually better than Omni at finding newspaper articles.
Search Google Scholar to find results in many subjects, like Omni. The results should be academic, but be careful to check that the information is reliable and readable.
- Carleton's Writing Services offers free consultations
Citation Help: APA
- When you write essays at university you usually have to cite your sources in your essay and include a list of references/bibliography at the end.
- There are rules for what information to include and how to format it. These sets of rules are called "citation styles"
- There are different citation styles used in different disciplines. ESLA classes usually use the APA style (American Psychological Association), which is the most common in Social Sciences disciplines
APA Style Help
- APA Style Sheet
- APA Style from Purdue University OWL
- From APA (American Psychological Association):
- APA Style (official APA page) and their useful APA Style Blog
- Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (if you want to buy or rent an online version of the full manual, only print copies can be bought on Amazon)
Watch our short video:
Other helpful guides:
- How to prepare an annotated bibliography ( Olin and Uris Libraries, Cornell University )
- Writing an annotated bibliography (University of Toronto Writing)
- Annotated Bibliography (Purdue Online Writing Lab)
Books in our collection to help with academic writing (small sample only!):
Note: print books can be requested through our curbside service during the COVID-19 closure
- Academic writing: A handbook for international students, 4th ed.
- Academic writing: A practical guide for students
- Academic writing for graduate students : essential tasks and skills Unit 6 is about writing critiques
- Basically academic : An introduction to EAP
- Mastering academic writing in the sciences : a step-by-step guide
- Reading critically, writing well : A reader and guide