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Developing Your Research Topic

Canadian Studies Topic Starters
Try skimming library book, chapter and journal titles for potential topic ideas or ways to narrow an existing topic.
  • Do very simple searches and skim the results
  • 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

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. 

Check out the Canadian Encyclopedia

The Canadian Encyclopedia is a great launchpad for Canadian Studies research topic. Browse for ideas, or do simple searches to get quick overviews of key Canadian issues and events. Keep searches VERY simple - one or two words max generally works best. 


Research Organizer

Use the research organizer to help you with your topic development, and keep track of the sources you find in your research. You can download and save this to your own drive, or add it to your Google drive and convert to a Google d

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 secondary sources. Which one(s) do you think are scholarly? Why?

Source is scholarly: 23 votes (95.83%)
Source is not scholarly: 1 votes (4.17%)
Total Votes: 24
Source is scholarly: 11 votes (34.38%)
Source is not scholarly: 21 votes (65.63%)
Total Votes: 32


3. In Bondage

Source is scholarly: 17 votes (47.22%)
Source is not scholarly: 19 votes (52.78%)
Total Votes: 36
Source is scholarly: 24 votes (85.71%)
Source is not scholarly: 4 votes (14.29%)
Total Votes: 28

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 -- what is the role of wilderness in Canadian identity
  • A poor search --  wilderness Canadian identity

Search for all possible endings of a word using the asterisk * - Canad* will look for Canad-a, Canad-ian, Canad-ians

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.

Secondary Sources: Find books 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.

Secondary Sources - Canadian Studies Journals

Secondary Sources: Find journal articles in a subject specific database

If you are overwhelmed with results in LibrarySearch, or having trouble narrowing your search to relevant results, try looking in a subject specific article database. You will find these databases on a relevant MRU library subject guide. Below are some examples of these subject specific tools:

America History & Life: Good for historical topics; searches within journals that cover North American history.

Bibliography of Indigenous Peoples of North America - Covers all aspects of Indigenous North American culture, history, and life, including multicultural relations, gaming, governance, legend, and literacy. Be sure to limit to peer-reviewed.

SocIndex: Good for topics with a sociological perspective, for example race, multiculturalism, etc. 

CPIQ Canadian Periodical Index: Searches within Canadian journals and magazines. Be sure to limit to peer reviewed.

CBCA Canadian Business and Current Affairs: Includes a wide range of Canadian publications covering education, business, current affairs among others. Be sure to limit to peer reviewed. 


Primary Sources

Types of Primary Sources (contemporary and historical)
Primary Source Collections - Some Starting Points
News media
  • Historical newspapers: Access to numerous historical newspapers, including some dating back to the mid-19th century (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail) and earlier.
  • Canadian Newsstream - Current articles from Canadian news outlets, includes weekly and major daily Canadian papers back to ~1969. Includes the Calgary Herald.
  • MRU LibrarySearch Newspapers: Searches major Canadian and Alberta dailies papers. 

Government & Legal Sources

Early Canadian Sources
  • ​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. 


⇒ 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, or add a word describing a specific type of primary source, e.g., speech, correspondence etc..
  • Try Google: If you are looking for a historical primary source, try adding the term "primary sources" or "primary documents" to your keywords in 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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