My prof suggested I search for articles in a specific journal: what does that mean?

Note: this post is jargon-heavy and aimed at students who have a little bit of research experience. Make sure to check out our other posts on journals and finding articles if you’re not sure what some of the terminology means. HC.

When you get to know a topic or a discipline, the same journal titles will keep popping up. You may notice this if you do a few research assignments on the same topic, or once you reach fourth year and have studied the same discipline for awhile. For experts in the field, like your professors, they’ll know which journal titles are likely to cover different topics within your discipline. This is often why they’ll suggest to you “look in Leadership Quarterly” or “check the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,” because they know the kinds of titles each journal will publish.

So: knowing how to access articles just from a specific journal title can be an important skill. Luckily the steps aren’t all that different from searching a database, you just need to know where to start. Off campus users: make sure to log in before you start!

  1. Start at the catalogue. There are lots of other ways to start, but this way will always connect you.
  2. Search by Journal Title. So, type in “leadership quarterly” or whatever journal you’re searching. Make sure to click the “Journal Title” radio button on the catalogue before hitting Search.
  3. CaptureLook for the “Click here for online access links.” There may be more than one, depending whether we pay for an online subscription for this journal from multiple places. Choose the link you think is most suitable for your needs. A warning, though: the date ranges next to the links aren’t always accurate!Capture 2
  4. Search for articles! Make sure the option “Limit Search to this Journal” or “Only this Journal” is checked.Capture 3Alternatively, you can browse by date or issue to see what’s been published recently. The best part: you don’t have to go searching for full-text articles!

How do I cite court decisions or case law?

This question came to me from students in Psychology 3313, but I’ve tried to make my answers as general as possible! – HC

Citing legal information can feel like a really un-fun treasure hunt: our APA citation guide, for example, refers you to the Publication Manual, which refers you to Appendix 7.1 which refers to you to the Bluebook. Then when you look at the Bluebook the examples are American. Annoying.

So, first thing’s first:

  1. What country is your court decision/case from? If it’s American use the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. If it’s Canadian, use the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation instead. Either way, these resources are located in the library’s reference section.  If it’s from outside Canada or the US I would suggest asking a librarian or emailing the Law Library’s reference desk.
  2. Build your citation. If you find the books difficult to understand (e.g. if you’re inexperienced with legal terminology, like me), I recommend checking out one of the following helpful resources for actually creating your citation. These guides are helpful as they break down the instructions in the Canadian Guide and the Bluebook.

Canadian guides:

    1. Queen’s University Library – Guide to Canadian Legal Citation
    2. Carlton University Library – Citing Legal Sources (see p. 2 “Citing Jurisprudence”)

American guides:

    1. Cornell University – Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (browse menu on the left)
    2. Georgetown – Citing Cases

If you’d like some additional assistance from a librarian, feel free to contact the Law Library (or me, of course!)

Getting relevant results: Improving your topic

Often when students are struggling with irrelevant research results it’s actually their topic that needs work. For most, their topics are either too broad or too narrow (see examples below).  There are a few things you can do, though, to help improve your topic.

Is your topic SMART?

  1. Specific – Is your topic too broad for the scope of your assignment (e.g. How can you be an ethical leader)? Too narrow (Steve Jobs and the ethical leadership of Apple)? Or just right (e.g. Is being ethical an essential quality of leadership)?
  2. Measurable – What will you be discussing or measuring throughout your paper? (In what ways is X affected by Y? How is X related to Y? What is the impact of X? How are X and Y related?)
  3. Attainable – Can you answer your research question within the limits of your paper? (e.g. You have 7-9 pages; at least 2 pages will be taken up by your introduction, background information, and conclusions. So you have 5-7 pages to actually answer your research question).
  4. Relevant – Is your topic related to the course? Does it meet the expectations of your professor? Are you interested in it?
  5. Timely – Can you answer the question, get all the research you need, and write the assignment before the due date? Also, is your topic too recent? Can there feasibly be academic research available on it?

Try turning your topic idea into a researchable question:

  1. Ask the 5W’s of your topic
    Who – what population are you talking about? (e.g. university students)
    What – what about that population? (that they’re stressed and don’t eat well as a result)
    Where – what geographical area are you focusing on? (e.g. Canada)
    When – what time period will you focus on? (e.g. last twenty years)
    Why – why does this topic matter? What does it have to do with your assignment/course?  (e.g. if you can’t answer all 5W’s you will need to do more background research first!
  2. Then ask yourself ‘How’?
    This is the “measurable” part of your SMART question (How are X and Y related; How does X influence Y)
    Asking the question HOW about your 5W’s can often help you develop a great research question!How does stress affect the eating habits of university students in Canada? (Note: I didn’t use “when” but that’s okay I think!)

And, just in case they’re helpful, here are some common types of research questions (Note: these ideas aren’t mine so please cite the original author, reference below)!

  • Definitions (While many people think X is a Y, can it better thought of as a Z?)
  • Evaluation (Can you argue that your person/activity/quality/thing is good, better or best (or bad, worse, or worst) compared to its peers?
  • Compare/contrast (Are there things/elements/people who are similar or dissimilar to the one you are thinking about?)
  • Explanation (Obvious causes of X; How Y would not have happened without X; Alternative causes to X than what is currently assumed)
  • Counter argument (Argue against what is currently assumed to be true)
  • Justification (Why does something matter?  Argue for something people haven’t previously considered that you think matters a great deal)

Source: Hacker, Diane. (2009). A Canadian writer’s reference, 4th ed. Boston: Bedford.

What is a DOI?

DOI is an acronym for “digital object identifier”, meaning a “digital identifier of an object” rather than an “identifier of a digital object”.

The DOI system is designed to work over the Internet. A DOI name is permanently assigned to an object (e.g. a journal article) to provide a persistent link to current information about that item, including where the object (or information about it) can be found on the Internet. While information about an object can change over time, its DOI name will not change.

For more information about DOI’s, visit the DOI website:

We’re sometimes asked: are DOI’s permanent or can they be changed? (e.g. when a journal is made available in pre-publication and then gets published in a journal).  The IDF does not have any specific rules on this (we could only find reference that “Individual Registering Agencies (RAs) adopt appropriate rules for their community and application”). In general, if substantial changes are made to a document or it is necessary to identify both the original and the changed material, a new DOI is assigned.  It’s safe to assume, then, that *most* of the time DOI’s will stay the same throughout the life of a document

How many resources should be in an academic paper?

Note: this post was written by guest editor Alison Foster. Thanks Alison! – HC

If we received this question at the library desk, our first response is always: “ask your prof.”  They’re the ones grading your assignments and are the ultimate authority. That said, students will often ask us for our “professional opinion,” so I’ll give a few tips below.

In my experience, there is no set number of resources required for a paper. Often, scholars will include a large volume of resources, in order to address the major points made in their research paper and support their argument/thesis. In the case of student assignments, you will often be asked to include a minimum number of assignments, but rarely asked to limit yourself (always check your assignment guidelines!). Overall, my response is: include as many resources as you need to support your ideas!

A great way to determine if you have included an appropriate amount of resources is to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have I backed up all of my key points with relevant and credible resources? Are there any gaps or unsupported statements in my essay?
  2. Am I relying too heavily on a source? Do I have 2-3 sources to back up each of my key points?
  3. If I have some unsupported points in my essay, could I back them up using resources that I have already cited/read?
  4. If my paper addresses a controversial issue or topic, have I included resources that address both sides of the issue?

Looking over your work for information gaps is a valuable skill that will help you in your present and future research!