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Research Strategies

Click on one of the topics below to expand the details.

I Found Some Films in the Library Catalogue... Now What?

  1. Note the following for each item
    • LOCATION: Identifies the library or resource centre where the item is located (e.g. “SPS stacks”).
    • CALL NUMBER: Standard number that will help you locate a specific item in the library (E98 L3 A276 1992)
    • STATUS: Indicates whether or not the item is available to be borrowed (IN LIBRARY).
  2. If the film you want is available (IN LIBRARY)
    • Go to the appropriate library to collect.
    • Films are short term loans and may not be transferred to another library on campus via the transit system.

I Can't Find the Film that I Want in the Library... If you cannot find a film on your topic in the Shared Library Catalogue, ask library staff for assistance.

How do I write a book review?

Before You Start:  

It may be helpful to look at some book reviews in scholarly journals in your area of study as a guide for structure and content. A book review is usually reviewed in the year that it was published or the next year. To find book reviews, you will need the following information: author, title, and year of publication. Book reviews can be found in popular publications (daily newspapers, magazines) and academic publications. Check if your book has already been reviewed by searching the most appropriate databases or print indexes. Remember that other reviewers will not necessarily agree among themselves, and you may agree or disagree with different reviews.

For additional help in finding reviews, ask at the Service Desk.

Reading the Book:

  • Make sure you read thoroughly and carefully. If possible, it may be a good idea to read the book twice, once to get an overview and a second time to take notes and gather quotations.
  • The following questions will give you an idea of what to look for. 

Questions to ask while you read:

  • What is the subject of the work? What genre does the work fit into?
  • What is the author’s central thesis and what are the author’s assumptions?
  • What are the author’s primary sources? How comprehensive is the research?
  • For whom is the book written? Scholars? Non-academics? Is the book appropriate to its audience?
  • How is the book structured? Is its organization logical and clear?
  • Does the book have illustrations? An index, bibliography, or other features? Are they effective and useful?
  • How appropriate is the book’s title?
  • Are you aware of any factual errors in the book? Oversights? Faulty assumptions?
  • Why was the book written? Has the author met these objectives?
  • What is your personal response to the book? Is it satisfying to read? Enjoyable? Convincing? Why or why not? 

Writing the Review 

The head of the review should include full bibliographic information on the book including author, title, and publishing information. The opening paragraph of your book review should include the following:

  • A statement about the topic of the work or its significance
  • A statement of the author’s purpose
  • A statement of the major themes of the book
  • Your thesis statement 

Potential Topics for Additional Paragraphs 

  • The presentation of the book, including the physical layout and organization, including the table of contents, chapter divisions, footnotes or endnotes, etc.
  • What are the author’s credentials? Is he or she an expert on this topic? Do you consider this book to be an authoritative source? Why or why not? Does the author acknowledge other sources on this subject?
  • Do you agree with the author’s point of view? Your opinions should be based on your own knowledge, with reference to other source material.
  • Evaluate the book’s major strengths and weaknesses.
  • What evidence does the author use to support his or her research? Is there a bibliography provided? Are there primary and secondary sources included? Does the author question the reliability or points of view of any of these sources?
  • Has the author made a useful contribution to the subject under review? How does this book fit in with others in its subject area?
  • What is the author’s writing style? Does he or she write clearly and accurately? 

Make sure you proofread your book review for errors in grammar and punctuation!

Reviewing Critical Editions of Primary Works  

Critical editions are produced by an editor or group of editors, and it is the editorial contribution to the work(s) that should be reviewed. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • What are the credentials of the editor(s)? Is this an authoritative edition?
  • Major focus of the review should be on the “critical apparatus”, the supporting material used by the editor.
  • Be aware of any other editions of the same work to compare.
  • Consider the physical presentation of the work. 

Reviewing Reference Works 

Reviews of reference works (dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, etc.) focus on the quality of the work(s) under review and are generally based on the following criteria:

  • Authority (credentials of the editor(s) or compiler(s))
  • Accuracy
  • Arrangement
  • Currency
  • Ease of Use
  • Readership
  • Scope (or Coverage)
  • Visual appeal (typography and format)

Comparisons with similar works are in order. If a work is unique, the reviewer must judge whether it can be improved, or whether it is truly “definitive”.

Reviewing Fiction

It is important to consider a variety of themes when reviewing a work of fiction.


  • What is the author’s attitude toward his characters?
  • Are the characters flat or three dimensional?
  • Does character development occur? 


  • Identify the major themes.
  • What is the purpose of these themes? To teach the reader, to entertain the reader, etc. 


  • How are the various elements of the plot handled (introduction, suspense, climax, conclusion)?
  • Is there a sub-plot and how is it related to the main plot?
  • Is the plot primary or secondary to some of the other essential elements of the story (character, setting, style, etc.)? 


  • What stylistic devices are employed (symbolism, motifs, parody, allegory)?
  • How effective is the dialogue? 


  • What is the setting and does it play a significant role in the work?
  • Is a sense of atmosphere evoked, and how?
  • Does the setting influence the characters and/or plot? 

Some Considerations When Reviewing Biography 

  • What phases of the subject’s life receive greatest treatment and is this justified?
  • What is the point of view of the author?
  • How is the subject matter organized: chronologically, retrospectively, etc.?
  • What sources were used in the preparation of the biography?
  • Is the work documented?
  • What important new facts about the subject’s life are revealed in the book?
  • How does the biography compare with others about the same person?
  • How does it compare with other works by the same author? 

Some Considerations When Reviewing History  

  • With what particular period does the book deal?
  • How thorough is the treatment?
  • What were the sources used?
  • Is the account given in broad outline or in detail?
  • What is the point of view or thesis of the author?
  • For what group is the book intended?
  • Is social history or political history emphasized?
  • Is the book a revision? How does it compare with earlier editions?
  • Are maps, illustrations, charts, etc. used and how are these to be evaluated?

How do I evaluate research resources?

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting resources for research papers:  


  • Review the author’s qualifications, such as education and previous works. 


  • Evaluate the authority of the source. Is the work published by an academic source such as a university or a scholarly society, or other reputable sources such as government or non-profit agencies?
  • For journals, is the journal peer reviewed?
  • Be skeptical about materials published on the internet—anyone can be their own publisher.  


  • For whom and for what reason was the material published? 
  • Evaluate the intended audience of the work. Is it addressed to scholars or a more general audience? 


  • Take note of when the material was published. Is the information still current or has it become outdated? 


  • Evaluate the depth of coverage for the particular topic.
  • Ensure that facts can be verified, and that the work includes a bibliography.
  • Evaluate the objectivity of the work: does it examine all sides of the issue?
  • Is the material a primary source (such as a new research study) or a secondary source (material which analyses or describes research done by others)?

How do I find books on my topic?

  1. Search the Shared Library Catalogue (An integrated catalogue of the collections of Western Libraries, King’s, Brescia, Huron University College Libraries and St. Peter’s Seminary Library).
  2. Search by 
    • Author
      • To find works by a person
      • Enter personal name in lastname firstname order, e.g. Day, Dorothy
      • For organizations or groups, use normal word order, e.g. Catholic Church
    • Title
      • When you know the exact title of the book, e.g. Long Loneliness
      • Omit initial articles (a, the, etc.) 
    • Keyword
      • When you do not know the exact title or author, e.g. Mass Media and Propaganda
      • Use quotes to indicate phrases, e.g. world wide web
      • Use * to truncate, (e.g. child* finds child, children, childhood, etc.) 
    • Subject
      • When you know the assigned Library of Congress subject heading for your topic, e.g. Catholic converts - United States – Biography
      • To find information about a person, enter name in lastname firstname order, e.g. Austen, Jane 
    • Call Number
      • Enter the call number, including punctuation, e.g. BX4668 D3 A33 1997
  3. Click “Search” 

I Found Some Books in the Catalogue

Note the following for each item 

  • LOCATION: Identifies the library or resource centre where the item is located (e.g. “SPS stacks” is at St. Peter's Seminary Library).
  • CALL NUMBER: Standard number that will help you locate a specific item in the library (BX4668 D3 A33 1997).
  • STATUS: Indicates whether or not the item is available to be borrowed (IN LIBRARY) 


CALL #: BX4668 D3 A33 1997


  • If the book you want is available (IN LIBRARY) 
  • Go to the appropriate library and pick it up OR use the “Request Item” button to have it transferred to another library on campus.
  • If the book that you want is signed out, request that it be returned early by placing a recall. Click on the “Request Item” button at the top of the catalogue page for the book you require. The “Request Verification” form displays the title of the item. To confirm your request enter your Western login name and password, select a pickup location and click on “Submit”. On the following page be sure to click on “Request Selected Item” to complete your request OR check the status of the item in the Shared Library Catalogue on or after the due date to confirm the item’s availability. 
  • If the book you want is IN TRANSIT, IN PROCESS or MISSING, ask for help at the Service Desk. 

I Can’t Find the Book that I Want

  1. If you can find the book in the Shared Library Catalogue but cannot find it on the shelf
  2. If you cannot find the book in the library catalogue
    • Confirm that you have the correct information (e.g. author, title, date)
    • Ask library staff for assistance
  3. If the specific book you need is not in the holdings of any of the libraries in the Shared Catalogue, you may request it through Interlibrary Loans (RACER)
    • Check nearby tables and/or book carts for the item
    • Confirm the location, call number and status of the item in the library catalogue
    • Ask library staff for assistance

How do I find articles?

  1. Choose a database: to find the databases recommended for your topic see the Explore a Subject or Research Guides  ( page for your discipline. 
  2. Search the database for your keywords. Boolean searching (AND, OR and NOT) is the default setting for most databases.
  3. Look for full text links , or click on the “Get It at Western button for more options. 
  4. If the journal, including the volume and issue you require, is available only in hard copy, find the library where the journal subscription is held. 
  5. If the journal is not owned by Western Libraries or any of its Affiliated University College Libraries (Brescia, Huron, King's and St. Peter's Seminary), use RACER to order the article from another library.
  6. Come to the Service Desk for additional assistance.

How do I find documentary and/or feature films on my topic?

  1. Click here for Shared Library Catalogue.
  2. Click “Go to Advanced Search” and select Videos, etc. from the drop down menu in the Format box.
  3. Type in keywords of your topic in the Advanced Keyword Search Box and press Go. (e.g. Social Justice)
     Advanced Search
  4. You may limit your search for films to a particular library collection, such as St. Peter's Seminary Library.  

Scholarly Journals

How do I recognize a scholarly journal?  

Most professors and instructors expect students to use scholarly journals as resources for their essays, in addition to books or book chapters. Scholarly journals are published regularly, and are part of the publication type known as periodicals or serials. 

What are Scholarly Journals?

Scholarly journals are periodicals which deal with academic study or research. Articles are written by scholars or researchers in the field, and are peer reviewed by editors who are also scholars in that field. The primary purpose of a scholarly journal is the publication of original research in order to make such information available to other scholars in the field.  

Features of Scholarly Journals 

Often include an abstract which summarizes the article’s contents before the main text of the article.
Often contain tables or graphs but few pictures.

Always cite their sources using footnotes or bibliographies. Bibliographies are generally lengthy and cite other scholarly sources. 

Please ask for assistance at the Service Desk if you have any questions about the sources needed for your essays and assignments.

How do I evaluate internet resources?

The internet contains a wealth of information, but there are no controls over who publishes and what is published on the internet. Thus, it is up to the user to determine whether or not an internet resource contains reliable information. Resources must meet certain criteria in order to prove their credibility, such as authority (who wrote and who published the article?), and accuracy (are the facts verifiable, are sources cited?). Equipped with these standards, the user can navigate the vast amounts of online information and locate quality sources. 

Consider these criteria: 

  • Who has posted this information? Evaluate the credentials of the publisher and whether or not they are connected to a certain organization.
  • Why has the information been posted? Consider whether the information has been posted to sell something, to sway readers to a certain view, or to provide objective information.
  • How current is the information? Be cautious of “last updated” dates, as they may not indicate a revision of the material. In many cases no date is provided for the information at all.
  • How accurate is the information? Ensure the information found online can be verified by other sources such as books or journals.   

Internet addresses can also be helpful in identifying the purpose and quality of internet sites: 

  • .edu is used for educational institutions in the United States
  • indicates a Canadian government site
  • .gov is used for U.S. government sites 
  • .com is used for commercial sites
  • .org is used by organizations

How do I identify journal types?

Popular Magazines vs Trade Publications vs Scholarly Journals 

The following general guidelines describe the three main types of periodicals: popular magazines, trade publications and scholarly journals. Not all periodicals fall into these categories. If you are not sure if a publication is appropriate for your assignment, ask your instructor. 

Popular Magazines
Trade Magazines
Scholarly Journals
  • eye catching cover
  • glossy paper
  • heavily illustrated in colour
  • many advertisements
  • each issue starts with page 1
  • cover highlights the industry
  • glossy paper
  • moderately illustrated in colour
  • trade-related advertisements
  • each issue starts with page 1
  • plain cover
  • plain paper
  • black/white charts and graphs
  • few or no advertisements
  • pages numbered consecutively through each volume

general public
members of a specific industry or organization
researchers and professionals

paid staff or freelancers
articles may be unsigned
paid staff or practitioners in the field
articles usually signed
scholars or researchers in the field
background of authors usually given
reviewed by an editor
reviewed by an editor
peer review/refereed
no bibliographies or footnotes
may have short bibliographies
always have bibliographies or footnotes
usually weekly or monthly
usually weekly or monthly
usually quarterly
commercial or industry association
university press or scholarly society
Business 2.0
Free Inquiry
Canadian Journal of History

How do I write an annotated bibliography?

Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography is a list of citations to information sources such as books, articles, documents, web sites, etc. In an annotated bibliography each citation is followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy and quality of the sources cited. Annotated bibliographies are often called guides to the literature.

Sample Descriptive Annotations

A descriptive annotation describes the content of the work without judging it. It does point out distinctive features.

1. Piatt, Christian and Amy Piatt. MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation. Atlanta, GA : Chalice Press, 2007.

The popularity of social networking sites indicates the overwhelming desire for community among youth and young adults, and the author’s online survey of young adults confirms a great interest in spirituality. This book is as extraordinary resource for anyone in ministry trying to understand young adults and their religious lives.

2. Rusch, William F. Ecumenical Reception: Its Challenge and Opportunity. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007

After tracing the dynamic ways in which the concept of reception has fostered unity and diversity among churches throughout history, Rusch then proceeds to examine and diagnose the modern realities of reception in the context of the ecumenical movement.

Samples taken from Missiology vol. 36, 2008

References are in MLA format.

Sample Critical Annotations

A critical annotation is evaluative when discussing works and considers how a book, article, website, etc. stands up against most of the published works in a particular field of study. This type of annotation would include how a work relates and compares to other works on the topic, and whether the work would be useful to others exploring the topic. The words in bold indicate what part of the annotation makes it a critical one.

1. McKim, Donald K. Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Ill. : IVP Academic Press, 2007.

This is a much expanded edition of a work that has already found its place among the indispensable tools of the biblical scholar. In this new edition some two hundred entries are found, updating the work significantly and expanding its scope. In addition there are major essays treating the history of biblical interpretation. A reading of sample entries indicate that they are succinct in format, readable and provide an excellent introduction to the subjects they treat and to their major works. As is clearly acknowledged, there are relatively few women writers (reflecting past if not contemporary trends in the subject area) and few from outside of a western context.

2. Hamel, Ronald P. and James J. Walter. Artificial Nutrition and Hydration and the Permanently Unconscious Patient: the Catholic Debate. Washington, DC : Georgetown University Press, 2007.

This is an essential book for any library that aspires to maintain a decent bioethics section. It contains a substantial collection of essays and official teaching documents that seek to present and develop Roman Catholic teaching on the care of patients who are permanently unconscious. Familiar distinctions between ordinary and extraordinary means of care, and between natural / normal and artificial, are considered at length. Medical, historical and pastoral considerations come first, including documentation from the American Academy of Neurology and from US bishops. This is followed by some well-respected earlier considerations of ethical and theological perspectives on this issue. Next comes the 2004 statement of John Paul II on care for patients in a ‘permanent’ vegetative state along with four responses to it. Finally some legal and public policy perspectives are discussed. In one book, therefore, the student is given a comprehensive and up-to-date series of reflections on one of the most controversial bioethical issues.

Samples taken from: Theological Book Review vol. 20 No.2, 2008

References are in MLA format.

Avoid plagiarism –

This page is both for students and for course instructors. The resources linked on this page can help students avoid plagiarism, and help instructors teach their students about plagiarism.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the “act or an instance of copying or stealing another’s words or ideas and attributing them as one’s own.” (Excerpted from Black’s Law Dictionary, West Group, 1999, 7th ed., p. 1170). This is the definition used by Western's Scholastic Discipline document. Plagiarism can be intentional or unintentional. Either way, plagiarism is a Scholastic Offence.

The following Western resources can help students avoid plagiarism:

  • Western Libraries' Style Guides help you cite using APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.
  • RefWorks is online software that can help you track sources, and automatically format bibliographies, footnotes, endnotes or in-line citations.
  • Western's Teaching Support Centre's page on Academic Integrity includes Resources for Faculty and Graduate Teaching Assistants.
  • Students: If you have additional questions, contact a library Research Help desk.

External videos

The following videos help to explain what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.