Dom Taylor

Philosophy, Religion, and French, Spanish, & Italian Librarian 

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide

Research Workshop

CATH 1190-A02

March 15, 2018

  1. 5 page essay (about 2000 words max in APA format).
  2. 4 secondary sources and 1 primary source
  3. Use APA format. There are some online resources and a general overview of APA available. 

For this first assignment

  • Primary sources: This can be a church document (see: Vatican website-- encyclicals), an edict, or a translated document from the early church (e.g., life of a Saint). Roughly speaking, primary sources that are used for making original letters. Other examples, these can be letters, newspapers, diaries, and corporate documents. Sometimes people say primary sources are unpublished, but this isn't always the case (e.g., some diaries and letters are published as collections; church documents are published and distributed widely). 
  • 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 ABOUT primary sources!

Primary and secondary sources

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, Apostolic Letters, and 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.




If you ever have difficulty finding something on a website, you can search the domain name by:

Going to Google and put "site:" + the general web address  want to search + a space + any keywords OR phrases you want to look up "rerum novarum"

For example, to search the Vatican website:

Searching web content

Note: the Vatican website has two main domains that you can search: "" and "". Search both!

Let's try out some of these strategies

Test search of our catalogue

"Vatican II"
(chronology OR  history)


  • 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

1. Find the entry in the New Catholic Encyclopedia  for Vatican II. Keep in mind that it might not be referred to simply as Vatican II; it could also be listed as "Vatican Council II," "Second Vatican Council," or a variation of this. Look for the section on the Pronouncements of the Council and see if you can find anything about updating liturgy. Note: for additional sources about Vatican II, review the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article.  


2. Using the library catalogue, find an online copy op John W. O'Malley's What Happened at Vatican II (2008). Hint 1: if you do a One Stop Search and then use the browse search option to do a subject search for "Vatican Council," you will find some useful resources. Hint 2: use limiters--limit to electronic books published after 2007.


3. Using the the online version of the book or the handouts I've made (ask me if you need them), locate the name of an important Vatican document about liturgy. Hint: use the index and/or end notes.


4. Once you've found the name of the document find an online version on the Vatican website. Hint: use site search for and


Workshop: Citation searching


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 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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