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Research Tips
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Research Tips

Be clear about what you want

  • Before you start, ask yourself: "What exactly am I looking for?"
  • You will be more successful and save a lot of time if you clearly define your topic at the start.


Get an overview

  • Unless you are truly familiar with your topic, start by collecting background material in: encyclopedias, dictionaries, books that provide "the big picture" (overview, context, history). 
  • Scan a variety of sources (e-resources, websites, current books) to get a further understanding of the issues that currently relate to your topic.
    • Journal and newspaper articles in e-resources are particularly good to highlight current issues and debates.
    • When searching the Internet, avoid using information from only the first one or two sites you visit. 
  • Once you have done this scan you may find that you need to narrow or "fine tune" your topic, or even revise it significantly, in order to address issues raised by others.


Develop your keyword search strategy


  1. Describe your topic (in one complete sentence ideally):

    My essay will describe services for people with disabilities in Ontario.

  2. Identify main concepts:

    Concept #1


    Concept #2


     Concept #3


    Concept #4

  3. Create strings of keywords and phrases that describe or relate to your concepts:

    Keyword String
    Concept #1:
    disabilities OR disability OR disabled OR handicapped OR spina bifida (etc.) 
    Keyword String
    Concept #2: 
    services OR programs OR aid OR government OR volunteer OR organizations OR funding (etc.)
    Keyword String
    Concept #3:
    Ontario OR Toronto OR Hamilton (etc.)


  • When using e-resources, you often can use the Thesaurus (also called Topic Guide or Subject Guide) to help you build strings of words and phrases that relate to each concept.
  • You can sometimes use "truncation" to make your searching faster - normally use the * when searching e-resources and $ when searching the library catalogue. For example: canad* will produce all records that start with those 5 letters - Canadian, Canada, Canadians, etc.






Find information from a variety of sources

  • Search the e-resources for newspaper, magazine, and scholarly journal articles.
  • Search the Internet to find reports or statistics from reputable websites.
  • Search the library catalogue to find books and videos.
  • Conduct personal interviews or surveys, if necessary. 

    Read Scholarly vs. Popular Publications to learn how to distinguish a scholarly journal from a popular magazine. 

Library staff can be very helpful at this stage of your research. Ask the Library for help to identify good sources and appropriate search strategies.


Schedule your work well in advance to allow for unexpected needs, delays, or interruptions


Track your work

  • Track your searches methodically - noting what search terms you use and which sources you visit. This will save you time and ensure that you don't miss anything important.
  • Record your sources that you use  - or may want to use  - by noting key identifiers such as author, title, date of publication, journal source, call number, etc. It is time-consuming and annoying at the writing stage to have to retrace your steps to identify your references.  This information is necessary for citing your sources in a bibliography.


Collect your sources

  • Know how to email, save, print and export e-resources.
  • Set up "Alerts" in e-resources and RSS feeds on the Internet and blog sites to give you updates.

Ask the Library for help - the Library staff can show you how.


Report writing tips 

  • Write "on topic": Make sure you are clear about what your instructor wants. Ask your instructor for clarification if in doubt.
  • Make an outline: draft the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. Refer to it constantly as you write. Adjust it if necessary as you go. 
  • Be "up front" about your views: in many cases your assignment involves a presentation of your views after you have done some research. Your views (also called an "argument") are usually expressed in your introduction: you tell the reader where you stand on your topic. 
  • Be "compelling": your job is to convince your readers of your point of view. Make statements that support your view, and back them up with the research you have done to argue your points.
  • Document all your sources using the citation style recommended by your instructor.
  • Conclude: at the end, you remind the reader of your argument (as stated in your introduction) and summarize how your discussion supports it. A really good conclusion often adds "a little something new" - a brief reference to another perspective, a recommendation for more research into some aspect of the topic, etc. 
  • Note on format: whatever citation style you use, aim for accuracy. It is painful to have marks taken off for poor form.


Recommended books on report writing in Centennial Libraries

  • You will find in the library catalogue many books on how to write...
    • Use, for example, the subject heading: report writing.
    • You will find that all four campuses have many books on report writing.


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