Dom Taylor

Religion and Social Work Librarian

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide

Research Skills

CATH 1190-A01

November 6, 2017

  1. What am I being asked to do? What questions do I need to answer? Look for for action words/phrases like, "form a thesis," "evaluate," "analyze," "describe," "critique," "review," or "argue" in your assignment guidelines. These words can help you identify what your professor is looking for.
  2. What type of sources should I find, read, and use in my paper? Should I look only look at academic sources? Do I need primary and/or secondary sources? Does the Bible count as a primary source?
  3. How will my paper be organized? What you are being asked to do for an assignment will impact this.
  4. What are my next steps? It's time for research!

Questions you should ask yourself about any assignment

  1. 5 page essay (about 1200 words max in APA format).
  2. You have to pick a topic and find something about specific about it. Narrow it down. For example, don't just do a mega-topic like "Catholicism in Africa." Break it down a bit: focus on an aspect of Catholicism that has relevance within an African context, a specific country in Africa (e.g., Democratic Republic of Congo has a very large Catholic population), or you could examine an event related to Catholicism in Africa (e.g. the persecution of Catholics in a number of African countries).
  3. 1 Primary source: this can be a church document (see: Vatican website), an edict, or a translated document from the early church (e.g., life of a Saint), if you are interested in Catholicism and Indigenous relations there are letters and reports from Jesuit monks
  4. 4 Secondary sources: Books and articles about Catholicism. Although this is not always the case, a good rule of thumb is that primary means first hand or direct accounts, whereas secondary means analysis, evaluation, and/or commentary of primary sources. Roughly speaking secondary sources are META!
  5. Use APA format. There are some online resources and a general overview of APA available. 

For this first assignment

Academic journal articles

  • Articles written for and by academics. 
  • Can be more technical and jargony than books, but they also use citations more consistently and thoroughly than books (this is good for you for multiple reasons).
  • Research is generally more recent than books


Academic-oriented books

  • Books published by University presses and academic or field-specific publishers .
  • Publication process is longer, so research is usually less recent than articles by default. Less consistent use of citation.



Types of Scholarly information

  • Usually the author has credentials (e.g., PhD) and/or is associated with an academic/research organization (this varies greatly from field-to-field).
  • There is a concern for citation and placing research within a broader context (e.g., reviewing related literature).
  • Methodology (i.e., how research is conducted) is usually discussed.
  • There is generally a concern for identifying and addressing limitations and competing viewpoints (i.e., there is a clear attempt to avoid bias)
  • Peer reviewed sources are a good indicator of scholarly information

Identifying scholarly information

1. Determine a topic: Pick something that interests you and try to find an aspect that you can narrow down. This is a good time to use encyclopedias/reference sources (e.g., New Catholic Encyclopedia, Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Religion, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Gale Virtual Reference Library, CREDO Reference, Blackwell Reference), Google Scholar, Google, and even Wikipedia (look at the references for links to scholarly information).


2. Formulate a focused research question/thesis: neither too broad nor too narrow. This is tricky and will take practice. You can start by answering "who," "what," "why," "when," "where," and "how" questions. Set some parameters (e.g., dates, geographic location, demographic information), but be ready to change them. Here are some more strategies.


3. From your question, identify keywords, including synonyms and related concepts, and possible subject headings:  You can search for standard subject headings here. Concept mapping can be helpful.

Basic Search Strategy

4. Identify possible types of useful information: scholarly articles, books, literature reviews, edicts of Roman emperors, Papal Encyclicals, primary sources (e.g., letters, diaries, first-hand accounts). 


5. Make a list of sites and databases where you can find these types of information. The Catholic Studies Subject Guide is a good place to start. You can also do a general search in the library catalogue. This is a very important step.


6. Combine keywords, phrases, subject headings into search queries:  Try many different searches and combinations of terms. Expect that it will take at least 10 different searches to get a good feel for what is out there.


7. Keep track of interesting articles! (see slide on Zotero below)

The guiding principle of searching:


If you have issues finding results in Step 6, go back to Step 2 and make some adjustments.

  • Phrase searching: most search engines allow for phrase searching. This means that you can search for whole phrases (e.g., "early church") instead of individual words (e.g., "early" + "church"). Just put the phrase you want to search in quotation marks (i.e., ""). This will help limit your results!

  • Identify synonyms and closely related words: When you are using keywords, remember that authors do not always use the same words for the same concepts. For example, you may want to look up "persecution", "oppression," "victimization," "maltreatment," and "discrimination". "Martydom" is a related term. Use a dictionary or thesaurus!

**You can find some video tutorials on search strategies here

A few quick search tips

  • Truncation: * (asterix) symbol is added near the end of a word to find all variations of that word (e.g., "Christian*" will find results for "Christianity," "Christians," "Christiania," and "Christian"). This will increase the amount of results. Not always the same symbol in every search engine. Be sure to check.
  • Wildcards: # (pound) symbol can be added within or at the end of a word to represent 0 to 1 characters (any character). This means you would add a "#" symbol for each character you want to search. For example "wom#n" will look up "women," "woman,"  "womyn;" "friend####" will look up "friend", "friends," and "friendship" (etc...). This will increase the amount of results. Not always the same symbol in every search engine.


Human Boolean Game

Please stand up!

Stay standing if:


(1) You are in CATH 1190-A01



Stay standing if:


(1) You are in CATH 1190-A01




(2) You are wearing (jeans OR glasses)



Stay standing if:


(1) You are in CATH 1190-A01




(2) You are wearing (jeans OR glasses)


But you did NOT


(3) "Eat breakfast" this morning

Let's make this into a "search query"

"CATH 1190-A01" 
("wearing jeans" OR "wearing glasses") 
("eat breakfast" AND morning)

Boolean Operators

These are words that cause search engines to modify how they search. Let's look at this diagram to get a better idea.






A search for persecut* AND Christian* will find results that contain both terms and will exclude results that only have one of the two terms.



A search for persecut* OR Christian* will find results that contain either of the search terms. This will generate more results. Handy for synonyms.

A search for persecut* NOT Christian* will find results that contain persecut* but do NOT contain Christian*. Use this sparingly and play around with it.




Let's try out some of these strategies

Test search of our catalogue

(persecut* OR oppression OR martyr*)


  • These allow you to limit results. Limiting may seem strange, but when there are tens of thousands of results available, you need to narrow your search down. Limiters are an easy way to do this!

Limit to peer-reviewed and full text online

Limit to resource type (e.g. articles)

Limit by publication date

Limit to location if you want print resources

Same search with a database

  1. Go to Catholic Studies subject guide, click on the "Resources" tab and select "Articles"
  2. You will see a list of recommended databases with descriptions (it's good to experiment with different databases)
  3. For now we'll pick the ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials
  4. Since this a test let's put in the same search in the general search bar:

Christian* AND (persecut* OR oppression OR martyr*) 
AND Diocletian  

Let's try using the index/subject terms

  1. In this database, go to the index
  2. There are many different indexes, but for now we'll try "subject terms": pick the "Subjects All" category and type "persecution"

You should get something like this:

  • Click on the first 2 boxes and click "Add" (make sure it is using OR)
  • Compare your results with your keyword search
  • Now try adding some keywords to the subject search (e.g. Diocletian):



((ZU "persecution") 
(ZU "persecution -- 0030-600")) 
AND diocletian

One last search with just subject terms and limiters:

((ZU "persecution") OR (ZU "persecution -- 0030-600"))  
(ZU "diocletian, emperor of rome, 245-313")


(1) Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals

(2) Language: English

# of results = 6

  • The most recent is from 2002 and is a book review
  • The remainder seem relevant but dated (not necessarily bad)

Evaluating information

  • How do we know something counts as "good" information?
  • Who gets to create and validate information? Who doesn't?
  • What is meant by expertise? Are official credentials the way to determine this?
  • What counts as trustworthy or credible?
  • Be aware of your own biases (we all have them)!


Dom Taylor

Religion and Social Work Librarian

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide



1. Once you have a general topic, choose something more specific that interests you about it. You may have come across something while you were browsing reference sources


2. Ask the 5W's+H (see previous page, section).


3. Identify the main issues/problems/areas of your topic. Are there any controversies?

Narrowing your search

4. Do some scoping research (see previous page, section 1) and see if there are major authors or articles that come up frequently.


5.  Start formulating a research question. Generally, avoid questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." Keep questions open-ended! Avoid questions that include a conclusion (bias).


6. Your question should contain identifiable keywords based on your knowledge of the topic (through your scoping search).

Example research question

Clear, focused, and appropriate in scope

Unclear, unfocused, and inppropriate in scope

  1. How can we cure addiction?
  1. How effective are Canadian harm reduction programs or strategies for managing alcohol-related substance abuse?


-Numerous identifiable keywords based on terminology.

-Scope is somewhat focused geographically (could be more specific) and topically (i.e., not simply all substances)


-Few keywords. Not using appropriate terminology.

-Question does not seem to be informed by any scoping/exploratory research

-Broad and ambiguous

Example of a concept map for the research question: “How can nations justify the ascription of refugee status to
asylum seekers?”




Subject terms? Keywords? Both?

Subject Terms

  • Usually defined by librarians or information specialists
  • Allow linking articles by topic instead of the specific terms used in a given article
  • It is easier to find articles related to your general topic
  • Sometimes inappropriate or out-of-date


  • Based on everyday language
  • Effective searching relies on knowing synonyms and commonly used terms
  • Can generate irrelevant results. Based on the frequency of the keyword rather than relevancy
  • Searches all available or selected parts of a resources (e.g., title, author, etc..)



Catholic Studies 1190-A01: Research Workshop

By Dom Taylor

Catholic Studies 1190-A01: Research Workshop

A brief look at some research strategies and techniques

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