This course guide introduces students to the research process for finding peer-reviewed journal literature, primary sources, monographs, archives, and other resources that will help you write a university-level essay.
Your assignments at university are an invitation to join a scholarly conversation by exploring topics in depth, by critically reading journal articles and primary sources, weighing the evidence, and then drawing your own conclusions. A good research topic is one that sparks your interest and allows you to ask new questions.
Pick a research topic
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the objectives of the essay proposal/final essay
- Read your assignment instructions carefully
- Identify the key concepts of your research topic. Need help?
Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia
- it will help you to become familiar with a topic
- it may broaden your search terms
- watch the video: Using Wikepedia Wisely
Consult encyclopedias and handbooks to find introductions to key concepts and develop your background knowledge of your topic
To find journal articles, you must search the library's databases that provide access. Keep in mind that your professor will want you to use peer-reviewed articles from academic journals.
Here is a short explanation on the peer review process for academic journal articles: Peer Review in 3 minutes
Academic journals publish the world's most recent peer reviewed research in all disciplines in the form of journal articles. On the other hand, popular magazines are primarily designed to inform the general public and to entertain, and are published for economic gain. Getting to know the difference between these sources is important because most databases provide access to all types of sources.
Here is a web page that describe the differences: Academic Journals vs. Popular Magazines and Newspapers
If you are unsure if the article you have found is from a journal that is 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: Academic/Scholarly vs Consumer magazine.
To find journal articles, you have three options:
1. Search Omni, the library's main search box
- enter your topic in the search box, or use the Advanced search option
- Omni 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, or other scholarly material. You will find more precise articles faster, with fewer results to browse.
Recommended databases for journal articles include:
- America, History and Life
- JSTOR - digital library of journals, books and primary sources
- Web of Science
3. Search the following recommended History Journals, individually, by using the Journal Search in Omni:
- Canadian Historical Review
- Journal of the Canadian Historical Association
- Histoire Sociale Social History
- Labour/Le Travail
- BC Studies
Please note: If the library does not have access to the material you need, you can register for a RACER account to order electronic items from other libraries via Interlibrary Loans.
- Search Omni, the library's main search box to find books on your topic. Remember to filter your search by Content type: Book/eBook.
- Once you find a few good books, use the Virtual Browse feature to see other books on similar topics.
- Use the Omni Search Tips guide if you need help.
Using the Advanced Search, try searching by Subject for books in Canadian History. Do this by using the drop down menu in the left column to select Subject. Recommended subject searches include:
- Canada--Economic conditions
- Canada--Emigration and Immigration--History
- Canada--Politics and government
- Canada--Social life and customs--17th century (or 18th century)
- Constitutional History--Canada
- Frontier and pioneer life--Canada
- Fur Trade--Canada
- Indians of North America--Canada--History
- Northwest Passage
- World War, 1914-1918--Canada
- World War, 1939-1945--Canada
Basic Search Tips
1. Identify the main concepts of your research topic and brainstorm possible keywords.
2. Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine keywords and enhance your search. Boolean operators should be capitalized when searching Omni.
- Use AND to combine topics - Canad* AND war worker
- Use OR to between related words or synonyms - women OR female
- Use NOT to exclude terms; gambling NOT lottery
- Use quotation marks to search for phrases - "Quiet Revolution" - "New France" - "Rupert's Land"
- Use the asterisk* for word endings to broaden your search - Canad* = Canada, Canada's, Canadian, Canadians
- Use the question mark ? for single character wildcard - wom?n - for woman, women
3. Begin searching for material with Omni, 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.
4. Here are the filters for finding peer reviewed journal articles:
- Peer reviewed Journals
5. Here are the filters for finding books (monographs):
- Print/Physical Item
- Books (or select Book Chapters)
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?
Searching for primary sources:
Search your topic (or historical person of interest) using Omni, the library's main search box, to find primary sources (or reproductions) in the library's collection.
Keyword searches in Omni that include the following terms will identify primary materials most of the time:
Example: women AND war AND diaries
- 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 ebook - History beyond the text; a student's guide to approaching alternative sources
Historical Newspaper Databases
Primary and Archival Sources on the web
- 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 useful web sites for discovering primary source material:
- Archives de Montreal
- Archives of Ontario
- BC Archives and Royal BC Museum
- Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- Canadian Museum of History
- Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
- Canada War Museum
- Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History
- Health Heritage Research Services
- Historica Canada
- Library and Archives Canada
- Toronto Public Library
- Virtual Museum Canada
Writing Support Tools
- Essaying the past; how to read, write and think about history
- Student writing; give it a generous reading
- Writing Services @ Carleton University