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SPCH 2001

Books and Book Chapters
Strengths: Provide an in-depth investigation into or discussion of a topic supported by research. Many scholarly, edited books have chapters similar to journal articles.
Weaknesses: Sometimes hard to tell if a book is scholarly.

Scholarly Journal Articles
Strengths: content is based on research findings or extensive review of existing research, written and reviewed by subject-matter experts.
Weaknesses: Written for expert readers using discipline-specific language or terminology, difficult to understand, not always very current.

Strengths: contain concise background information on a topic, describing important concepts, terms, events, people or issues. Normally a great starting point when you are just learning about a topic. Written by experts but more accessible than journal articles for non-experts.
Weaknesses: Short topic summaries may not go into enough depth on a topic. Wikipedia has reliability issues (avoid this and go for an academic encyclopedia from the library instead).

Media Sources (news, magazine articles)
Strengths: Good for current information and some analysis of current events and issues. Written by journalists for general audiences.
Weaknesses: Can be biased, sometimes written to entertain rather than inform, often not written by experts or reviewed by experts. On the Web, unreliable, "fake news" sites can pose as real news sites, and it can be hard to tell what is authentic and reliable news.

Websites & Social Media
Strengths: Easily accessible. Can find info on just about any topic. Can find government info and publicly funded info here.
Weaknesses: No review or quality control. It can be hard to assess credibility and reliability. Personal opinions can outweigh research evidence and reasoned arguments.

Scholarly Articles

  • Often referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed 
  • Written by experts in a particular field
  • Aim to keep others who are interested in that field up to date on the most recent research and findings.
  • Based on rigorous, disciplinary methods and approaches to conducting researching and asking questions.

What is peer-review?

  • When a source has been peer-reviewed it been read, scrutinized and critiqued by experts and colleagues in the author's field. They evaluate the source's originality, rigour and contribution to the discipline's body of knowledge and make recommendations to a journal editor to publish it, suggest revisions, or reject it.

General Characteristics

  1. Author: Expert in the field
  2. Review: Reviewed by other experts (peers)
  3. Audience / Language: Written for scholars and students; uses academic language
  4. Content: Original research and criticism; uses previous research literature for background
  5. Citations: Always

Evaluate Sources with the Three C's: Content, Container, Context


  • What is it about? What kind of information does it provide? How is it presented? I.e. is it fact, opinion, review, analysis, commentary, or research?
  • Is it verifiable? trustworthy? How can you tell? Does it provide details about where the information comes from, i.e. references? Does the author have the required expertise, qualifications or experience to write about this topic?
  • Is it original content or re-used/shared content?
  • Is it relevant? What does it have to do with your topic? How is this info helpful to you?


  • What is it? (e.g. an academic journal, a newspaper, a book, a blog?) What are the characteristics of this type of source? Who are the writers and readers are of this kind of information? What other content is found in the same container? (e.g. commentary, research, advertisements, web links?)


  • Where did you find it? (e.g. through social media? Google? a library database?)
  • Where is it shared or published and how is it accessed? (freely available online? With a subscription? Digital or in print?) 
  • Who is responsible for this information - a company, a government, a university, an individual?
  • How does this information relate to what else you have seen or read on this topic?


What are the best tools for the information that I need?

General Search Tools

  • These search multiple disciplines.  Not as strong for finding discipline-specific topics (ie.  the term "stress" could relate to psychology  or engineering)
  • Examples include: LibrarySearch, Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar

Subject Specific Search Tools (Use the subject guides to help identify these)

  • These tools are focused on a specific discipline, such as psychology, economics, biology, etc.  Use the subject guides to help choose a subject specific search tool

Background / Reference Search Tools (Use the subject guides to help identify these)

  • Useful for finding background information on your topic, finding key people, understanding key concepts and locating other readings.  Includes encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.
Using LibrarySearch

Useful Filters (on the right hand side of the results screen)

  1. Resource Type
  2. Subject
  3. Access Options
  4. Creation Date

Useful Tools (in the item record)

  1. Citation tools
  2. Permalink
  3. Access Options

General Searching Tips:

Less is More: Start with one or two words and then add one additional term at a time

  • aggressive dog breed bans

Use synonyms:

  • pit bull OR pitbull
  • aggressive OR vicious
  • rule OR bylaw OR legislation

Phrase searching: Use "quotation marks" around key ideas made up of multiple words

  • "german shepherd"
  • "breed-specific legislation"

Truncation: Use an asterisk * to find different endings to your keywords

  • aggress* = aggression, aggressive

Use limits: These refine (narrow) your search using different restrictions

  • Date (last 10 years)
  • Peer-reviewed (for articles)

Citing and Referencing

  1. Use the "cite" feature in most search tools to get you started with most resources
  2. Use the MRU citations guides and resources to find additional help for different styles, including guides, and videos. 
  3. Use the Service Desk on the 1st floor of the RLLC for assistance as well as the library chat feature on the library website.
  4. Make an appointment with Student Learning Services


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Sara Sharun