Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

Introduction   Starting   Clarifying   Bibliographies   Finding & Evaluating
Primary Sources   Special Topics   Citing Sources   Ask Your Librarian!   Detailed Table of Contents
1. Time Out: Starting a Research Project
The outline of this research guide follows the basic steps in the research process:

Finding background information,
Finding and evaluating key books, journal articles and other materials,
Finding and using primary sources,
Citing sources used.

Research is learning for a purpose: a process of exploration, discovery and problem-solving. As you read and learn more about your topic, remember to take time out to focus on your purpose; clarify your position, thesis or argument and make sense of the information found. You may need to backtrack and redo steps, and it will take time.

It makes sense to know about the kinds of information available to you before you start. Whether your topic is a clear, assigned one or a vague question or idea in your mind, a great deal of time can be saved and insight gained quickly, by starting off using reference materials such as those described in Part 2. Using specialized encyclopedias or textbooks, for example, will help you put your topic in context, give you background information to help understand the issues, and provide key dates, terms and phrases you will need to begin your search effectively in book catalogues, article indexes and databases. Bibliographies, or lists of some of the key sources recommended for further reading, may also be included to indicate good starting points. Bibliographies are also published separately and can save much searching time. (See part 3.)

Understanding the specialized jargon or terms you come across is crucial. Some widely used political and government terms have a different meaning in the Canadian context. Use a specialized Canadian political or government dictionary to clarify concepts early on.

Tips for finding and evaluating good books, articles and other sources of information are given in Part 4. As you read and evaluate sources, take notes and summarize what you are learning. You may need to rethink your original idea based on the new facts uncovered, narrow the focus if you find the topic too large to handle, or you may need more evidence for your argument. Primary sources can provide good evidence for an original thesis or argument and can make a research paper or presentation more interesting. Part 5 covers tips on finding and using primary sources.

A good research paper will present the author's original ideas, arguments or thesis, but these must be backed up by facts, statements, primary sources and/or the research of others. All sources used must be cited so that readers can distinguish your thoughts from others' and future researchers can continue building on your work. Citing sources appropriately is extremely important in academic research. Various guides to help with this are listed in Part 7. While this step is listed near the end, it should not be left for last. Make sure to keep notes with detailed citations of the sources consulted at every stage of the process. The bibliography or endnotes may appear at the end of the paper, but these are compiled from the notes you take early on and must be accurate and carefully done to avoid plagiarism.

Librarians can help at all stages of the research process. Part 8 gives some tips on tapping into the best libraries for your research and getting research asstistance from librarians.

The main parts of this guide refer to general sources useful for research on contemporary Canadian government and politics. Mini research guides following the same outline are linked to from Part 6. Suggestions for others are welcome.

This guide provides advice on researching, with links to key resources in print and online. For advice on writing a political science research paper, the following guides will be helpful:  

Thomson Nelson Guide to Research and Writing in Political Science. By Lucille and Mark Charlton. Toronto: Thomson Nelson, 2006. 95 p.
A writer's guide intended for political science students from introductory to graduate levels providing detailed advice on how to take notes, structure and write different kinds of papers and assignments common in political science such as issue reaction papers, policy analysis papers, briefing papers, critical reviews, op-ed articles and literature reviews.

A Student's Guide for Writing in Political Science. By André Martel. Ottawa: Carleton U. Press, 1997. 40 p.
A brief guide by a Carleton professor suggests a way to read, take notes and write a paper while researching a topic in political science.

Introduction   Starting   Clarifying   Bibliographies   Finding & Evaluating
Primary Sources   Special Topics   Citing Sources   Ask Your Librarian!   Detailed Table of Contents

Prepared and Maintained by Anita Cannon, Librarian 
R. P. Bell Library   Mount Allison University   Mount Allison Centre for Canadian Studies
Last Updated: July 11, 2007