This library course guide is intended to help students hone their information literacy skills related to the research and writing of the history essay.
Pick a Research topic
- Read your syllabus and course assignment instructions carefully
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the criteria of the assignment
- Need extra help? Click on Choosing an essay topic
Do some background reading on your topic
- use Wikipedia to help you become familiar with your topic and broaden your search terms
- watch this video for more help: Using Wikepedia Wisely
Consult specialized encyclopedias or dictionaries to read overviews of your topic that may help you better understand key concepts in your area of research:
What is peer reviewed journal literature?
Alhough many of the library's databases provide access to all types of sources, your professor will want you to use peer-reviewed literature from academic journals (or books).
Here is a short explanation on the peer review process: Peer Review in 3 minutes
Academic journals (also known as periodicals or serials) publish the world's most recent research in all disciplines. On the other hand, popular magazines are primarily designed to entertain as well as inform the general public. Getting to know the difference between these sources is important. Here is a web page that describe the differences: Academic Journals vs. Popular Magazines and Newspapers
If you are unsure if a journal is scholarly and peer reviewed, you can check the database Ulrichsweb. It is the definitive source that lets you know what type of journal you are using by 'content type'.
To find journal articles, you have two options:
1. Use the Omni, the library's main search box
- type in the title of the journal article (or book) using quotation marks in the library's main search box
- this tool searches most of the library's databases, simultaneously, for all types of material, ie: journal articles, book reviews, books/e-books, newspapers, magazines,videos, reports, etc.
- each search can return many results (much like Google), so you must use the filters to refine your search results
2. Search specialized databases for History
- these databases are focused on various areas of historical research and contain citations or full text links to journal articles, books, conference proceedings, reports, and dissertations
- you will find more precise articles with fewer results to browse
Recommended databases for journal articles/books include:
Step by step Instructions
1. Identify the main concepts of your research topic and brainstorm possible keywords.
2. Use Boolean operators (AND, OR) to combine concepts and enhance your search. By using AND, you are narrowing your search and by using OR to connect synonyms, you are expanding your search. Here are a few examples:
women AND "Middle Ages" AND "religious orders"
3. Make sure to enclose your search for phrases with quotation marks. Example: "Middle Ages"
4. Use the truncation (or stemming) technique to broaden your search. The asterisk * at the end of a root word will search various word endings. Example: sun* = suns, sunshine, sunny, sunlight
5. Begin searching for material with the library's main search box to find books and other sources on your topic. Remember to filter your search by content type for each new search.
6. Here are the filters to use for peer reviewed journals:
- Available Online
- Subject (optional)
All information found online using Google should be critically evaluated because there is no guarantee that it is reliable or accurate.
While doing your research, check each source for currency, reliability, authority and purpose.
Try to answer the questions below:
Currency (Is the information up-to-date?)
- How recent is the information?
- How recently has the website been updated?
- Is the website modified regularly?
- Is the information current enough for your research?
Checklist for up-to-date information
- Site or page date
- Is the date of publication or last revision published (often at the bottom of the page)?
- When was the site or page last updated?
- Is the information out-of-date?
Reliability (Is the information trustworthy?)
- Is this web page intended for elementary or high school students?
- If so, is it the best site to refer to when writing a university-level research paper?
- Has the information passed through any peer reviewing process?
- Has the author(s) documented his/her sources by including a reference list?
- Is the information reproduced from another site. If so, which one?
- If applicable, when were the sources published?
Checklist for reliable information
- Evidence of the peer review process (e.g., in an "About us" or editorial statement)
- A bibliography or reference list
Authority (Is the author credible?)
- Who is the creator or author of the website or web page
- E.g., a recognized individual or organization/government?
- What are his/her/its credentials
- E.g., is the individual author or organization known in the field?
- Has the author published other material(s)?
- Does the author provide contact information (e.g., email address or phone number) in case you want to verify the information?
- Who is the publisher or sponsor?
- Can you determine if he/she/the organization has a good reputation?
Checklist for authoritative information
- Look for information about the author of the site or page. Is the author qualified to publish on this topic?
- E.g. Can you identify the author's education and relevant professional experience?
- Look up the author's name in the Library search box or use Wikipedia.
- Read the uniform resource locator (URL) carefully to determine if you are reading someone's personal page.
- You need to investigate the author carefully because personal pages have no publisher or domain owner to vouch for the information.
- Is the domain extension appropriate for the content?
- Government sites: .gov
- Educational sites: edu
- Nonprofit organizations: .org
- Identify the publisher (individual or organization) of the site or page.
- The publisher operates the server computer from which the site or page is issued. Do you know anything about the publisher?
"About us" links
- Read the information on the site or page about the author and/or publisher.
- This could be under "about us," "philosophy," "background," or "bibliography" tabs.
Page design or structure
- Page design is not always an indicator of credibility but if a site or page is easy to navigate, you'll be able to assess the information more easily.
Purpose/Point of view (Is the information objective?)
- What is the purpose or point of view of the site?
- Is the information primarily fact or opinion?
- Does the point of view seem balanced and/or objective (e.g., presents more than one perspective)?
- What is the publisher's interest (if any) in this information?
- Does the site try to persuade, advocate, entertain, or sell a product?
Checklist for objective information
- "About us" links - read the information on the site or page about the author and/or publisher.
- This could be under "about us" or "philosophy", "background" or "bibliography" tabs.
- Is there advertising?
- Cross reference information. Try to verify the information by cross referencing the material.
- Look up some of the references in Google Scholar (via Carleton University Library).
Searching for primary sources:
Search your topic (or historical person of interest) using the library's main search box to find primary sources (or reproductions) in our collection. Keyword searches that include the following terms will identify primary materials most of the time:
- Diar* (for diary or diaries)
- Personal narrative
Other search tips:
- Use bibliographies and footnotes of secondary sources on your topic to help identify primary source material.
- Useful book: History beyond the text: a student's guide to approaching alternative sources
- Original documents can also be found by searching our archival collections or by contacting the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) staff for help. The library has many microform collections of primary sources as well.
Historical Newspaper Databases
Primary Source Databases for History
- British History Online
- C19, the Nineteenth Century Index
- Eighteenth Century Collections Online
- Empire Online
- Archives and Primary Sources Databases
- Digital Public Library of America
- Internet Archive
- Hathi Trust Digital Library
- Library of Congress Digital Collections
- National Archives (UK)
- New York Public Library Digital Collections
- RUSA Primary Sources on the web guide
Other libraries with significant primary source collections:
- Center for Research Libraries (CRL) - Carleton University Library is a member of the CRL consortium. It regularly acquires and preserves newspapers, journals, documents, archives, and other traditional and digital resources for research and teaching and makes them available to member institutions through your RACER account.
Books on writing
- Essaying the past; how to read, write and think about history
- Student writing; give it a generous reading
Citing your sources
Citing your sources is an important part of academic writing. Why?
- it lets you acknowledge the ideas or words of others if you use them in your work
- it demonstrates that you are using the scholarly record and that you can provide authority for statements you make in your term paper
- it enables readers to find the source information
- it helps you to avoid plagiarism
Other Writing Help
- Writing Services offers students instruction on developing an argument, structuring ideas, and writing well.