This online guide was created for researchers interested in contemporary Canadian government and politics, roughly 1945 to the present. It provides annotated links to some of the most useful print and online sources in the field, with research tips and strategies for finding more information.
Originally published in 2001 with the assistance of the Mount Allison Centre for Canadian Studies and the generous support of the Crabtree Foundation.
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 the "Clarifying" section. Specialized encyclopedias or textbooks, for example, can help put your topic in context, give you an overview and background information to help you understand the issues related to your topic, and provide key dates, terms and phrases you will need to begin your search effectively in book catalogues and article 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.
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 the "Finding and Evaluating" section. 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. Tips on finding and using primary sources, as well as a list of selected, annotated sources are in the "Primary Sources" section.
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 the section: "Citing Sources". 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. The "Ask Your Librarian!" section includes tips on tapping into the best libraries for your research and getting research assistance from librarians.
The main parts of this guide refer to general sources useful for research on contemporary Canadian government and politics. Mini research guides on special topics following the same outline are linked to from the "Special Topics" tab.
This guide provides advice on doing research, with links to key resources in print and online. For advice on writing a political science research paper, the following guides will be helpful:
Nelson Guide to Research and Writing in Political Science. By Lucille and Mark Charlton. 2nd. ed. Toronto: Nelson Education, 2013. 129 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.
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.
Writing in Political Science: A Brief Guide. By Mika and Danielle La Vaque-Manty. New York: Oxford U. Press, 2016. 224 p.
Covers the writing process, intended for an undergraduate audience.