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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.
  • Drop by the "Ask Us desk" at Robarts Library (2nd floor) to get research help from a friendly librarian or graduate student.
  • When you're at the UC Library, the library assistants and the librarian are happy to help. All UC library assistants are graduate students in Information.
  • Use the popular Chat service ("Ask: Chat with a librarian").
  • You can also get help by email or phone.
  • 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.