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Four Directions Writing Guide

Step 2 - Summer

Summer - Researching your Topic

Red = Summer

  • knowledge sockeye red salmon swimming

  • physical

  • understanding

  • flexibility

  • preparation

  • process

  • collaborate

  • give energy


Now is the time for in-depth researching!

In this step you will find sources of information that support your ideas and you will start to arrange them into a rough outline of what your essay will look like.

You will need to set time aside to do research and you will need to be flexible in terms of your rough thesis. Remember it’s just a starting point and your research might lead you to another viewpoint.  


different types of books and articlesWhat Type of Sources can I use?

There are many different forms of information that will help you support your argument. You can use a variety of sources from books and scholarly journals to government websites, statistics and personal interviews.

Remember to always follow your professor’s instructions. The assignment outline will sometimes list the type of sources and the number of sources you need. Always stick to this! If you would like to use knowledge from an elder, ask your professor or talk to RASS. 



What are Scholarly Sources? 

Your professor is likely to ask you to use scholarly resources for your paper. Professors prefer scholarly sources because they use agreed-upon rigorous and critical methods. Scholarly Jources are:

  • Written by someone with an advanced degree working at a University - usually a PhD
    • Example: By Dr. James Smith, PhD, Ryerson University
  • Published in an academic journal or by a university publisher
    • Published in Journal of Neurology 
  • Contains research and citations
    • Works cited page at the end with a list of books and articles used throughout the paper or book. 


Popular magazines like the New YorkerWhat are Popular Sources?

Popular sources are magazines and newspapers and are very useful for current commentary on a topic or issue, but they usually do not contain in-depth research.  

For more information - see our section on Popular vs Scholarly in RU Search



Other Types of Sources


For certain assignments you might be asked to use primary sources. Primary sources are works created at the time of an event, or by a person who directly experienced an event.

It is the content that matters and an on-line source can still be a primary source. For example, an online copy of a newspaper from May 8, 1945, is still a primary source even though the original article was digitized.

For more information see our section on Primary vs Secondary



How to Find Sources.

Where should I start? Google vs. the Library Website


Google is one way to start your research, especially if you are unfamiliar with your topic. You can also find government documents and charity reports by searching Google.

But please remember you should use Ryerson Library's website.


The Library's Website (  

The Library has purchased books, e-books and subscriptions to article databases on your behalf. When you search through the library’s catalogue, you get access to the books and full text Scholarly articles because you are a Ryerson Student (You’ll be asked to sign-in using your my.ryerson account). If you try to access these same sources through Google, you will be asked to pay. Never pay, just visit our website to get access to these sources. 


How to put together a “Search Strategy” (Boolean Search Methods) keywords in a word cloud

Learning how to search for scholarly sources is a skill you have to practice over and over before you become an expert searcher.

When searching for your sources, you’ll need to use “Keywords” and a method called "Boolean". Using this method is a quick and easy way to expand or narrow down your research when using databases and even websites like Google. 

(image from: Editor Growth and Contribution Program keywords, Wikipedia)

Here's a Video from Seneca College on Keywords:  


Putting it Together with Boolean Search 

Use synonyms: Often there are multiple ways to express the same concept. For example these synonyms mean essentially the same thing – make sure to use them:

  • employment can also be:
    • job
    • work
    • career
  • Teenagers can be:
    • Adolescents
    • Youth
    • young people

​Use quotation marks "    ": 

If one of your synonyms contains more than one word (e.g., First Nations) use quotation marks (” “) around the whole phrase (e.g., “First Nations”) to ensure the words are searched for together and not separately.


Combine Keywords with AND

boolean logic with strawbery, vanilla and chocolate as an example

Teenagers AND Jobs  = this finds books and articles that contain both Teenagers and Jobs


Combine Synonyms with OR and put them in Bracket (   )

(Teenagers OR Teens OR Young People) = This will find books and articles that contain either one, two or three of these words

If you keep getting the wrong result try NOT


Example: Java Script NOT Coffee


Métis NOT Inuit




Here's a Search Example Using these Tips:

"First Nation" AND (Teenagers OR Adolescents OR Youth) AND (Employment OR Work Or Jobs) AND Canada


When searching in Databases try to use the following: 

 Use limiters:  

Limit your search to look only for the title or author, within a certain date range, in a certain format, and more. This eliminates a lot of irrelevant results immediately. (These are found in the advanced search options in either databases and websites).

 Advanced Search Options: 

Everywhere you search, from the library catalogue, to article databases, to Google and Yahoo, there will be a Help page for search tips and a Advanced Search options page. Explore these pages for site-specific search tips.

 More information see Advance Search Techniques

Where To Find Your Sources: 

Our website will help you find books, newspapers and scholarly articles. Follow these helpful links to find these specific source using our website: 


A Quick Overview of How to Find Sources on RULA's Website: 


How to Find Books

To find scholarly and in-depth books you need to use Ryerson Library’s Book search engine. You can also use it to  find other resources such as DVDs and government reports.

RULA website with Books Tab highlighed

Get Started on Finding Books.


How to Find Scholarly Articles and Newspapers:

The easiest way to find articles and newspapers is through the Library databases. The databases act like search engines for scholarly articles, magazine and newspapers.

  • Library databases help you search for subject-specific articles
  • Provide the full text of the article for free. Click on the “Full Text” or the “Get it” button in the results to connect to the full text.
  • Some contain records for government documents, books/ book chapters, dissertations, theses or images

How to Find Library Databases

  1. Go to the Library Homepage
  2. Click on Research Databases tab
  3. From the pull down menu pick your subject area or “multi-disciplinary”
  4. Pick from the list of databases in your subject area

You will have to search more than one database – different databases contain different articles on your topic


Here's the Research Databases tab on the Library’s Homepage:

RULA website with Research Databases Tab highlighted

By picking Biology from the pull down list your get a list of databases for Biology 

List of Biology databases on RULA website




Get started on searching databases 


Next Steps: 

How can I tell if my source is appropriate for my essay?book with magnifine glass

It is important to think critically and to analyze your source of information. Your goal here is to recognize that some sources will not work for your essay. They might fail to support tyour own argument, are politically biased or are too old.

Here’s a helpful PDF from York University on the “PARCA” test. The PARCA test is a method to evaluate sources by determining its Purpose, Authority, Relevance, Currency, and Accuracy.


How many resources should I find?

Don't overwhelm yourself with research at the beginning. By starting off with the minimum required amount of sources you will reduce the amount of stress that you put on yourself and it will help narrow down the scope of your essay. It will also help you determine whether or not you should alter your thesis.

Reading your Sources:

Be sure to read every source carefully and critically. You can read once to get the gist of the argument, and the second time to read critically to see if the argument is well supported. Finally, note how this source will help enhance your main point/thesis.

Here is a helpful hint from RUSEARCH entitled “How to Read Critically”


pen and paperTake Notes

It is absolutely essential that you take notes as you are compiling your research, and even more crucial when you decide which arguments you believe will be the best for your work. Taking notes does not mean copying down word for word, but in essence a summary of the work, or an idea that resonates with you.

Here  are some helpful links from RUSEARCH on some Note Taking Methods



Note on Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity is about being truthful and honest in your academic work. This means taking responsibility to ensure that the works you use are properly cited, and that credit is given to the original author. Your paper should be a balance of citations from the experts and your own voice.

Proper note-taking will help you ensure you give proper credit where credit is due. 

For more information on academic integrity, please visit the Academic Integrity Website.