Dom Taylor

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

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide

Reasearching and evaluating resources

CATH 1190-A01

February 8, 2018

  • 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.


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.




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?
  • REMEMBER: USE THE CRAAP TEST (see slide below)
  • Be aware of your own biases (we all have them)!

Handy tool: CRAAP Test

  • Currency: When was the information published? If it is a website, has it been updated recently? This criteria is dependent on the purpose of your research and your instructor's guidelines (e.g., published within the last five years).
  • Relevance: Is the information appropriate for your research? Does it relate directly to your topic? Does research contained match your purpose (e.g., is it academic or a blog post)?
  • Authority: Who is the author and what are their credentials/expertise? Are articles peer-reviewed? Are books self-published or published by academic presses? Authority will depend heavily on subject.
  • Accuracy: This is difficult to figure out, but you can look for signs, such as citations in the source (the number and type) and the number of times a source has been cited. Is the claim verifiable? Is there an effort to "make a case" for the perspective put forward?
  • Perspective/purpose:  Is the purpose of the information clear? Does it acknowledge other perspectives/arguments and take time to address them? Is there a clear bias or is it balanced?

There are plenty of Academic Libraries that use a version of the CRAAP test. My take was inspired by this particular one from Western University.

Evaluate and compare sources

In-class workshop

  • Divide into small groups and examine the two sources you are provided. Using what we discussed about reliability and credibility, as well as your ideas of what counts as useful, compare and assess the sources.
  • List a two pros and cons for each source and two comparative points (e.g., which source has more citations? Which source provides references? Do the sources have a clear bias or are they relatively neutral?).
  • Is there a way that you can use this sources legitimately?
  • Is the CRAAP test useful? Is there a better test?
  • Prepare to present your findings to the class.


Dom Taylor

Religion and Social Work Librarian

Father Harold Drake Library and Elizabeth Dafoe Library

Catholic Studies Subject Guide



Catholic Studies 1190-A01: Evaluating Resources

By Dom Taylor

Catholic Studies 1190-A01: Evaluating Resources

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