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The Founding College of the University of Toronto
five students reading at study carrels next to windows

Researching Your Essays

Here are some friendly tips for researching an essay on any topic, plus lots of useful links for researching an essay in a specific University College-affiliated program.

Research Tips

  • Get help with your research.

    • Let us help you find better sources for your essay -- and save you time.
    • Use the popular Chat service ("Ask: Chat with a librarian").
    • You can also get help by email.
    • For in-depth research help, you can even book a consultation (a one-on-one appointment with a librarian).

    Find out more about getting help with your research (U of T Libraries)

  • Find out what kinds of sources your instructor expects for your assignment.

    • Scholarly books?
    • Scholarly journal articles? Peer-reviewed journal articles? Newspaper or magazine articles?
    • Primary sources? Secondary sources?
    • Websites that are relevant and authoritative?
    • If in doubt, ask your professor or TA.
  • Try to start your research early, so you'll have time to...

    • follow trails (one source you're reading might mention another key source for your topic);
    • request books or articles from UTM Library, UTSC Library, or UTL at Downsview ("intercampus delivery"); or
    • request books or articles from other universities, if U of T doesn't own them ("interlibrary loan / RACER").
  • Start your research at the U of T libraries home page.

    • The U of T Libraries home page is a good place to find scholarly (and some non-scholarly) sources, both electronic and print.
    • Most people can't get these for free on the web, but as a U of T student you have free access with your UTORid.
    • Key search tools:
      • "Catalogue search" (books, DVDs, etc.)
      • "Article search"
      • Databases
    • The "Start your search" box gives you a PREVIEW of your first few results from "Catalogue search" and "Article search."
    • The "Start your search" box does NOT include Databases -- you need to search these separately.
  • Start with more general sources.

    A general source (such as an encyclopedia) is an easier place to start than a highly specific source (such as a journal article).

    1. encyclopedia article to get the context?
    2. chapter or section in a more general book?
    3. book(s) on your topic?
    4. journal article(s) on a specific aspect of your topic?

    Explore the specialized online encyclopedias available from U of T Libraries.

  • Browse the shelves.

    • After a catalogue search leads you to a few relevant books, browse the physical shelves nearby for other books on the same topic.
    • You can also browse VIRTUALLY by clicking "Browse Shelf" in the library catalogue.
    • Books are important sources in humanities and social sciences.
    • Some books are only available in print, some only as ebooks, and some in both formats.
  • Find the best database(s) for your topic.

    • Each field of study has a specialized database(s) -- e.g., psychology has "PsycInfo."
    • Often a specialized database is the best way to find relevant articles.
    • From the U of T Libraries home page, click "Databases... By subject A-Z."
    • Then select your broad topic (e.g., "psychology" or "biology" or "Indigenous studies").
  • Let your research inform your writing.

    • Professors want you to analyze and engage with your sources.
    • Your viewpoint will evolve as you read, take notes, think critically and write.