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SOSC 0130

Brainstorming for Search Terms

Before you can begin looking for sources for your essay, you need to have a list of search terms that describe the topic and what you need to learn about it.

You can do this by brainstorming what you already know about the book, by reading some simple background sources about it, and also by collecting new search terms as you browse through possible secondary sources in the Library search tools

Your list of possible search terms should include (but might not be limited to):

  • Time period in which the book is set

  • Geographical setting for the book 

  • Major themes discussed in the book 

  • Major historical events that occurred in the book

Recognizing Scholarly Secondary Sources

Most academic assignments will call on you to find and read scholarly sources; being able to recognize these types of sources is an important academic skill that you will apply throughout your academic life.

Recognizing Scholarly Secondary Sources in History 7:42 min.

Finding Background Information on Your Topic

To get a basic understanding of events or issues related to your topic, and to build your search vocabulary, it can help to consult specialized academic encyclopedias. You will find them on the Background Sources tab of this research guide. 

Recommended tools for this course include:

  • Canadian Encyclopedia
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  • Oxford Reference

Tip: Within an encyclopedia, use very simple terms e.g., japanese internment, residential schools, midwifery, World War I etc. 

General Search Advice

- use search terms you imagine an expert would use, take notes as you come upon new terms

- Avoid long strings of words and sentence fragments when you search:

Good search:  japanese internment Canada
Poor search: internment of japanese people in Canada 

- To retrieve fewer, more relevant search results, add a term to your query 
       japanese internment Canada property

- Put important phrases inside quotation marks -- "world war"

- use an asterisk to search for all possible endings of a term
           Canad* will find Canada, Canadian, Canadians

- search for similar terms at the same time by putting them inside brackets and connecting them with OR:
          (Indigenous OR aboriginal) 

Finding Sources

Find scholarly books and articles available at MRU using LibrarySearch

  • On the library homepage, use the Books, articles & more box.

  • To to find scholarly journal articles, check "peer-reviewed" on the right side of the screen.

  • To find books, filter by "resource type" to "books" on the right side of the screen.

  • Try the Advanced Search option, and use the drop-down menus to search for important search terms in the Subject or Titles of library items.

  • You can still borrow print books from MRU during the pandemic, via contactless pick-up.

Finding and Accessing Books & Articles in MRU's LibrarySearch 5:32 min


Still can't find a relevant historical source? 

Try searching in a history specific journal article database
America History and Life: articles on the history and culture of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present.

Using America History & Life, from the University of Guelph 2:00 min.

Chicago Citation Resources

Chicago style citation resources for MRU will help you format your footnotes and bibliography.


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Alice Swabey
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