This library course guide is intended to help history students hone their research skills related to finding historical sources and writing a research paper at the university level.
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 an initial search on Wikipedia for background knowledge
- Wikipedia will also help you to broaden your search terms
- Watch the video, Using Wikepedia Wisely
Identify key concepts/ideas/themes by consulting online or print encyclopedias
- Canadian Encyclopedia
- Gale Virtual Reference Library
- Oxford Reference Online
- SAGE Knowledge Encyclopedias
Consult handbooks and/or manuals for help with research and writing
To find journal articles, you have several options:
1. Use Omni - library's main search box
- type in the keywords of your topic in the 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 filters to refine your search results
- try using the Advanced Search and narrow by Subject terms (controlled vocabulary)
- use the Omni Search Tips guide if you need help
2. Use recommended databases for journal articles/books include:
- America, History and Life - covers all areas of Canadian and U.S. history
- Historical Abstracts - cover all areas of world history (except for North America)
- JSTOR - digital library of journal articles, books and primary sources on all topics
3. Use a search engine:
- Google Scholar - access via the Library's web site - it is a large search engine that searches information on the web and provides links to full-text articles to which the Carleton Library subscribes.
Step by step Instructions
1. Identify the main concepts of your research topic and brainstorm possible keywords.
2. Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) 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. Note: when using Omni the Boolean operators (command words) must be in CAPS.
Here are a few examples:
"Vietnam War desertions"
(draft dodgers OR resisters) AND Canad*
"Anti-Vietnam movement" AND Canad*
"political refugees" AND war AND Canad*
3. Make sure to enclose phrase searches with quotation marks. Example: "Vietnam War desertion*"
4. Use the truncation (or stemming) to broaden your search. The asterisk * at the end of a root word will search various word endings. Example: Canad* = Canada's, Canadian, Canada
5. Begin searching for material with the 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 in order to find a variety of material.
6. Here are the filters to use for finding peer-reviewed journals:
- Peer-reviewed journals
- Subject (optional)
7. Here are the filters to use for finding books:
- Print physical item or Available Online
8. Use Virtual Browse at bottom of search results screen to browse books.
9. If you need more help use the Omni Search Tips guide
- Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources for an overview
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 our collection. Example: nurses AND war AND diar*
Keyword searches that include the following terms may also identify primary sources: Diar* (for diary or diaries), Correspondence, Letter*, Memoir*, Personal narrative*, Recollection*, Reminiscence*, Journal*, or Sources
Other search tips:
- Use bibliographies and footnotes of secondary sources on your topic to help identify primary source material.
- 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. Please ask a librarian for assistance.
Citing Primary Sources
Historical Newspaper Databases
Digital Archives of primary sources on the web
- 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.
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?
- Get Help with searching:
- Get Help with identifying sources:
- Get Help with writing outlines and essays:
- Get Help with your writing and citing: