Searching by Type of Source

The subject guide is often overlooked, but it is the best place to start. Once you have selected your discipline from the main subject guide listing, you will find a comprehensive list of journal indexes, websites, and reference materials that will be relevant to your research. 

You can also look at how the library catalogues its different holdings; there may be different sites or indexes for searching its archival holdings, maps, government documents, and statistical data.

You may also skip over the library catalogue to the online periodical indexes as your discipline may require you only to use the most recent empirical evidence presented in peer-reviewed journals. This is why planning ahead is essential to research; it is frustrating and time consuming to look for materials in the wrong places.

Looking for books, e-books, reference materials, government documents, videos, archival materials, maps, and more?

Look to the university library catalogue

Library catalogues are only a part of a larger library web site and are used to search for books and other kinds of sources, such as microfiche or videos, that the library holds. You can search the online library catalogue by author, title, subject, or keyword. You can also limit your search to only books.

Note that periodicals, like journals and newspapers, are listed in library catalogues by their complete title and by their general subject only. In other words, the authors and titles of articles published within these periodicals are not listed; you must consult a periodical index for that information.

Looking for journal articles, newspaper articles, book reviews, PhD dissertations, and more?

Look to a periodical index

Often you will need to consult the most recent scholarship when preparing your essay, so you must go beyond the books catalogued by your library.  In journal articles, scientists, social scientists, historians, literary critics, and others participate in an ongoing conversation about current areas of experiment, debate, or discussion in their field. Every university library provides students and researchers with access to thousands of journals, each devoted to a particular area of study (perhaps an area as broad as biology or as narrow as the ecclesiastical history of Sussex), each one published periodically (usually monthly or quarterly) in print, online, or both.

You may discover useful articles from newspapers and popular magazines using a periodical index. By using a newspaper index, a history student can find pieces on the abolition of slavery that were published in the Times during the early nineteenth century. A student writing an essay on employment equity for disabled persons might be able to demonstrate that media coverage of this topic has increased over the last five years by discovering how many articles on this subject were published in popular magazines during each of the years under consideration.

Indexes, which libraries pay for by subscription, lead you to articles from scholarly and popular periodicals and sometimes to other kinds of sources such as Ph.D. dissertations.             

Different indexes cover different fields and subjects. Some of these indexes list only article citations (information on the title, author, journal, and date). Others list citations with abstracts (summaries of the articles). However, many will include the full text of the article, which you can print, save, or e-mail to yourself. If you are unable to get the full-text of the article from the index, do a title search for the journal on your library catalogue; you may find it in print or listed in another index. Alternatively, you can order an article that is not available at your library through the inter-library loan service.

When you use an index to search for sources, be sure to use the advanced search option, which allows you to search by title, author, subject or keyword. You may also wish to set limits on your search; if you want only recent peer-reviewed scholarly articles, set your limits to remove book reviews or articles from popular publications as well as items that were published more than five years ago.

Looking for statistical data, corporate information, NGO reports, or images?

Look to the web

Important or useful sites may be linked from your course (or departmental) web site or from the library’s subject guide. These sites are good places to start before you plug your search terms into a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. If you do choose to use Google, use Google Scholar. Try to go directly to the site of an organization, rather than selecting documents or data published on other sites that may not be trustworthy.

Government web sites, like Statistics Canada or the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, offer policy documents and reports.

You can find information about research or work done by non-governmenalt organizations (NGOs) such as Free the Children, Doctors without Borders, or Dignitas International, by reviewing their organizational web sites.

Corporate web sites are helpful too; click on links titled “our company” or “about us” to go to the corporate site from the more common commercial site to access reports on policy or public financial documents. Access works of art from museum web sites where possible, or images of cell cross-sections from the companion site for your course text.

Because your work should be grounded in research which conforms to university-level expectations, you should carefully assess the origins of all materials, particularly those found on the web. Refer to this checklist to assess the reliability and applicability of your sources.

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