CMNS 110 (Daniel Ahadi) Term paper research

This research guide is intended to help you select a suitable topic for your essay proposal and conduct research to find scholarly sources for your bibliography.

Sylvia's PPT from Oct.16, 2018, lecture

REVIEW:  Which of these is a scholarly article?
A.   McIntosh, H. (2014). Representations of female scientists in The Big Bang TheoryJournal Of popular film & television, 42(4), 195-204. doi:10.1080/01956051.2014.896779
B.   Bennett, Laura. (2013). "Betty White is not a sex machine.New Republic 244, no. 9: 5-6.
C.   O'Dell, C. (2003). The Big Myth About Women in TelevisionTelevision Quarterly, 33(4), 40.

Contact info

If you want to consult a librarian about search strategies for your specific research question, you can Ask a Librarian or contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication ( 778.782.3681).

If you would like to consult someone about the writing your essay, contact the Student Learning Commons.

Exploring possible topics

Suggested strategies for finding a term paper topic:

1) Review your course readings and lecture notes for ideas

(Review the course syllabus)

It's useful to select a topic that comes from something you already know and have an interest in exploring more fully. Course readings may also help you find other topics as they will include a bibliography or reference list.

One of the advantages of starting with a scholarly sources, such as your course readings, is that they often provide a list of additional credible resources on your topic. These bibliographies (also called references, works cited, or further reading) list the sources consulted by the author in the course of their research and provide citations so you can find these works for yourself.

2) Use a specialized encyclopedia that covers your topic

Some examples of good background sources:

The international encyclopedia of communication
Provides introductions to most communication topics

Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications
Browse list of communication issues by subject or search for a specific issue. Also provides communication issues by country.

International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences 
Includes discussions of communication and media related topics

Quality assurance for information sources

Once you have decided on a research topic of interest, look for in-depth information, discussion of the issues, analysis of research, etc. which can be found chiefly in scholarly books and articles in academic journals.

Your essay proposal & bibliography assignment requires that you provide evidence to support your discussion, from a variety of scholarly information and other sources. 

Academic journal articles and books can be found in both print and electronic formats in the SFU Library collection (details on searching each can be found below).

For more details on recognizing the characteristics of scholarly journal articles, see our guide to What is a Scholarly Journal?

The best journals are peer-reviewed which means each submission is judged by a panel of experts in the discipline before it's accepted for publication. When using journal articles, Ulrich's Periodical Directory will tell you if it's a peer-reviewed journal.

When you're using a book, the author's credentials can often be found in the first few pages.

Critically evaluate the quality of the source by asking the following questions:

  1. Is a date of publication provided? Is the source current enough for your purposes?

  2. What is the expertise of the author? Do they have an advanced academic degree? Are they affiliated with a university, research institution or government department?

  3. Who has published the information? Is it a government body, university or credible scholarly publisher?

  4. Are other research sources cited? This is a standard academic practice and should be evident in scholarly sources.

  5. Is the information accurate and complete? Is it consistent with what you've found in other credible sources?

  6. Is there evidence of objectivity? Does the creator of the information have a financial or political interest that may bias the information?

  7. Is there evidence of quality control, e.g. professional editing, no obvious errors such as poor spelling, grammar, coherence, organization?

Web sites may contain useful information from government bodies, media activist groups, scholarly associations and other credible sources. However, as you know, you can also find much old, incomplete and inaccurate information on web sites because there's no editor on the World Wide Web, to ensure only valuable information is published.

Web sites often provide information about the organization who's created the information, linked from the homepage using a label like "About this organization" or "Mandate".

Research findings, theory and analysis in articles

Periodical indexes include records that describe articles in journals, magazines and newspapers. They allow you to find citations to articles on one topic in many journals without having to look through each issue of each journal.

Periodical indexes exist in all subject areas and virtually no subject is limited to one index. There are subject specific indexes and multidisciplinary indexes. Your topic may be covered in several indexes, from different perspectives.  A good search strategy includes using more than one article index.

Some indexes cover primarily scholarly literature, some cover popular literature, and some a mixture of both.

Some indexes include the full text of articles, while others provide an abstract, describing what the article is about, and a citation.

Indexes to articles in Communication journals

Communications & Mass Media Complete 
A good starting place to find articles dealing with Communication topics.  It includes both popular and scholarly sources.

Cross disciplinary article indexes

Humanities & Social Sciences Abstracts
Citations for major English language scholarly journals in all humanities and social sciences disciplines, including communications

Web of Science
Indexes scholarly sources & permits citation searching so you can see who's cited an article since it's been published

Academic Search Premier
Scholarly and popular coverage, cross disciplinary, much full text

Selected indexes covering aspects of mass media

CBCA Complete
A major index for Canadian publications; especially good for finding information about Canadian media policy.

Sociological Abstracts
Indexes sociological literature, including communication. Good for topics about collective behaviour, diversity & gender related issues, crime.

Business Source Complete
Business journal articles and industry news sources, useful for finding out the impact on businesses and consumers

Canadian Electronic Library
Access to Canadian e-books, health and public policy documents.

Canadian Research Index Canadian government publications at all levels of government, including Statistics Canada documents

If you're not sure which index is the best fit for your topic, Ask a Librarian. Librarians are always happy to consult about effective research strategies and would be glad to help you get started.

Search technique:

Do a keyword search for your topic and look at relevant citations for an appropriate subject heading to use to focus your searches If you don't find enough, consider using a synonym for your search term or a broader or narrower term.

Narrow down your results by using a limiting feature or adding another concept to your search.  For example, instead of searching for "broadcasting", search for "broadcasting policy" or "broadcasting and policy"

Your search results include citations for journal articles, the title and author(s) names and tell you where to find the article by specifying which journal and which volume, number, date and pages. A citation is the information you need to find the article in the library or request a copy from another library.

Sample citation:

Winseck, Dwayne. (1998). Pursuing the Holy Grail. Information highways and media reconvergence in Britain and Canada. European Journal of Communication. 13 (3, September), 337-374.

How to interpret the citation:

  • Dwayne Winseck is the author of the article.
  • "Pursuing the Holy Grail..." is the article title.
  • This article was published in volume 13, issue 3 of the journal called European Journal of Communication, on pages 337 to 374.
  • The publication date was September of 1998.

Now what?

Most databases will indicate whether SFU subscribes to the journal being cited in either print or electronic form. Look for the link labelled Where can I get this? in the database record.

In-depth information in books

Books and reports are a good source of in-depth information for your research paper.  If you find a useful resource listed in a bibliography, you can check the SFU Library catalogue to see if we own it and where it's located.  Use the Library catalogue to search for both print and digital materials, such as books, encyclopedias, directories, and government reports. 

Note: You can also use the catalogue to determine if SFU subscribes to a specific journal or newspaper but not to locate articles on your topic. To search for articles on your topic, across a range of journals, you need to use a periodicals index (see Articles below).

Search technique:

Use the Keyword search to find books with your search term appearing somewhere in the record: the title, author, subject heading or notes field. If you find a useful looking title, you can use the subject headings appearing in the record to find other books on the same topic or search by the author's name to see if he/she has written any other pertinent books.

If you find several books that have similar call numbers, that tells you that books on your topic classify together so you can browse the shelves nearby to find similar books.

Advanced searching techniques


When searching electronic sources (index databases, the web), be aware that computers operate on a literal basis.
For example, if you search for "Canada", you will not pick up records that use "Canadian" instead. Your search term must exactly match words used in the information source.

Consider the search terms you're going to use to search for information. If you don't find good matches for your first search terms, consider trying these strategies:

  • Variations in spelling or abbreviations:
        television or tv

  • Related terminology:
        television or broadcasting or programming or programs

  • Broader or narrower terms:
        television or cable television or satellite television or specific genres of television

  • Search for a specific case study and see if you can generalize to a broader topic, based on the words used in your result records

As you search the article databases and library catalogue, look at records for items that seem relevant. Note the subject headings or descriptors used in these records and use these as search terms. 

Subject headings selected from a list of standard terminology, after a human had done an analysis of the information to determine what it is about. if you conduct a search using controlled subject headings or descriptors, you can feel confident that you've found all records that focus on your topic.

For example, the SFU Library Catalogue uses the subject heading terms "electronic games", "computer games", "video games", and "internet games" to describe books about digitally based games. All may have useful titles gathered under them, with slightly different perspectives. .

Ideally, you should capture most documents that are significantly about your topic, without missing really key information and not having to wade through hundreds of records to find a good one. When using databases, such as the Library catalogue and the article indexes, you can use the following techniques to improve the relevancy of your results.

Too few or no results?

  • Check for spelling errors or typos
  • Use truncation (*) at the end of root words, to find all variations
    e.g. broadcast* will find broadcast, broadcasts, broadcasting.
  • Think of synonyms for your search term and join them together with OR
    e.g. television or broadcasting or programs
  • Choose a broader or related topic word
  • Try searching a different database

Too many results?

  • Narrow your focus by adding another word to your search with AND
    e.g. broadcasting and Canada
  • Limit your search by date, language, format (e.g. journal articles only)
  • Use more specific terminology
    e.g. soap operas rather than television
  • Search in the citation fields rather than in full text
  • When you find a good record, use the subject headings to search for only those records which focus on this topic

Search tools such as the Library catalogue and article indexes differ from web search engines in significant ways. For example, search results in most article indexes are listed in chronological order, with the most recent articles at the top of the list. Google ranks results according to the relevancy to the search terms, with relevancy determined in part by how many other pages link to this one.

Writing your paper

This term paper gives you a chance to develop and improve writing skills that you will use throughout your academic career.

Take this opportunity to focus on improving any aspects of your research and writing process that aren't as efficient and effective as they could be -- and start with the SFU Student Learning Commons and the SFU Library when you need help.  The SFU Student Learning Commons offers:

regular sessions on writing skills, studying, time management...

Writing for University
handouts and online guides to processes and strategies

Consultations with peer-tutors

Documenting your research

It is a convention of academic writing to cite the research you've consulted, both to give credit to the intellectual contributions of another and to show how your work fits with the accepted body of knowledge for your discipline.

The SFU Library provides a citation guide for APA, including examples of how to cite most information sources such as books, articles, web sites, etc.  You can also access an APA citation tutorial.   If you don't find an answer to your specific citation question, Ask a Librarian.  

If you're not sure how to use sources appropriately, check out the Library guide to avoiding plagiarism. You can also find help with ensuring academic integrity from the staff at the SFU Student Learning Commons.

Note details about your information sources as you find them, as well as your search strategies and keywords.  You can easily save citation lists from databases or catalogue into a file so you can use them in your paper's bibliography.