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Developing Your Research Topic

Canadian Studies Topic Starters

Follow the topic searches linked below for books and articles in MRU's LibrarySearch. Refine results using the search filters provided e.g., creation date, subject etc, or by adding additional search terms. 


Skim for topic ideas

Try skimming library book, chapter and journal titles for potential topic ideas or ways to narrow an existing topic.
  • For book results, follow the title and have a look at the chapter headings to get ideas
  • For journal article results, follow the title and read the brief abstract (article summary) provided
  • Make note of possible ideas and search words as you go

Browse reference works/encyclopedias

Browse brief encyclopedia articles for sub-issues and basic facts related to Canadian topics. Look also for useful bibliographies.

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly & Popular Sources

There's an APP for evaluating information:

A: What authority does the author have on the topic ? What qualifications do they have? Who is the audience?
P - What process did the information go through? Is it based on research? What publication process - peer-reviewed or only spell-check?
P - What is the purpose of the information? To inform or educate? To persuade? To sell you something? To entertain?

Briefly skim the following sources. Which one(s) do you think are scholarly? Why?

Source is scholarly: 15 votes (88.24%)
Source is not scholarly: 2 votes (11.76%)
Total Votes: 17
Source is scholarly: 10 votes (55.56%)
Source is not scholarly: 8 votes (44.44%)
Total Votes: 18
Source is scholarly: 14 votes (93.33%)
Source is not scholarly: 1 votes (6.67%)
Total Votes: 15
Source is scholarly: 7 votes (41.18%)
Source is not scholarly: 10 votes (58.82%)
Total Votes: 17

Use a good search strategy to look for sources

Build your vocabulary: As you browse possible sources, read book/chapter and article titles carefully to help improve your search vocabulary and narrow your topic. The larger and more flexible your search vocabulary, the more successful you will be. 

Use keywords and short phrases: never use sentences or sentence fragments. Choose keywords that are vital to your topic. Use terms an expert would use, avoiding slang. Your course outline offers some good starting points.

  • A good search -- Canada Japanese internment
  • A poor search --  life in Japanese internment camps in Canada

Don't settle for the first results you find: the most relevant results aren't always on the top of the list or on the first page of results. Browse through for the best sources, not the easiest ones to find.

Search for books, book chapters, and journal articles in LibrarySearch

Use the MRU LibrarySearch tool - the search box on the library homepage - to find information in all formats (books, journal articles, videos, 

LibrarySearch Tips
  • Log in with your MRU credentials for best results
  • Use the sidebar options to refine your search (e.g. limit results to only relevant subjects, or to preferred resource type, e.g., books).
  • Use the advanced search to search for important terms in the subject or title fields on the drop-down menus.
  • Limit results to only peer-reviewed sources to find only scholarly journal articles.
  • "Pinning" items allows you to return to them later, if you have logged in.

Primary Sources

Types of Primary Sources
Primary Source Collections - Some Starting Points

For a more exhaustive list of Canadian primary source collections, visit the Primary Sources for Canadian History tab of this research guide. 

  • ​Canadiana Online: Includes early government documents/legislation, some early newspapers, religious tracts and special interest group publications of various kinds. Best for topics up to the early 20th century. 
  • Historical newspapers: Newspapers are an accessible form of primary source for those new to this type of research. MRU provides access to numerous papers, including some dating back to the mid-19th century (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail) and earlier.
  • Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada (Hansard): Includes all verbatim accounts of all debates of the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons from the first session in 1867 to 1994 (House of Commons) and 1996 (Senate). 
  • Peel's Prairie Provinces: Documents the settlement and development of the Canadian West, with a focus on Alberta, and dating back to the earliest days of exploration in the region. A good source of political and special interest related tracts and pamphlets (e.g. social reform and temperance organizations). 
  • University of Calgary Digital Collections - Includes useful sources on the history of  Alberta, including early newspapers and legal history. For best results, limit your search to only the most relevant collections for your topic. 


General Search Tips for Finding Primary Sources
  • Try LibrarySearch: Add the term sources to other relevant search terms to find primary sources available via the MRU Library.
  • Try Google: Add "primary sources" or "primary documents" to a Google search.
  • When searching WITHIN electronic primary source collection, use terminology common to the historical period you are researching, rather than the modern terms. E.g “Great War” versus "World War I," or  “Dominion Day” versus “Canada Day.” 
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Alice Swabey
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