You are here

ENGL 199W: Introduction to University Writing

This guide has been designed as a starting point for the research that you will need to to research for English 199W.

If you need help, please contact Ivana Niseteo, Liaison Librarian for English, French, French Programs (FASS), Humanities, Linguistics, and World Literature at 778.782.6838 or or Ask a librarian.

Research process


To aid in the planning of your paper, you may want to get some background information in broader areas such as history, geography or psychology. Consult encyclopedias or directories to get general information. Check the Research Guides on the SFU Library homepage and click on the Background Information tab to get an idea of the resources you can use.

Keep track of every item you consult

Most style guides require you to note the following: title of article, book or document, journal title (if article), author or editor, publisher (if book), date of publication, place of publication (if book), volume and issue number (if journal), pagination (if article or document). If you print out articles, highlight this information. Also, check the Citation & Style Guides page.

Search strategies

Before searching the Library Catalogue or databases, think about your topic. Break down your topic into concepts or keywords. Think of synonyms for each keyword or concept.  Keep your mind open to new or alternative words that describe your topic.

Identifying search terms

To identify which terms you should use to search for books and articles, write down the proposed title of your project and underline the important/meaningful words, e.g.:

  • Given Cunnigham's discussion of Life Magazine's portrayals of depression-era poor people, how are the Canadian poor (the "homeless") depicted in today's media.
  • Use the underlined words and think of any variations, synonyms or related terms. (e.g. poor, homeless, marginalized or television, mass media).

Combining terms

The simple connectors AND and OR allow you to combine terms to broaden or narrow your searches.

Narrow: combining with AND requires ALL terms to be found in each search result.  Use this for finding two or more concepts in the same source, e.g.:

  • "poor and media" or "poor and mass media" or "homeless and media" or "homelessness and media"

Broaden: combining with OR requires ANY term to be found in each search result.  Use this for finding synonyms and related words, e.g.:

  • "poor or homeless"

    * The asterisk can be used to truncate words that may have several endings, e.g. "drug*" will find "drugs" or "drugged".

Finding books in the SFU Library

Use the Library Catalogue to find books owned by SFU Library.

For works on a topic, search by keywords.  You don't need to use the connector AND in the library catalogue: the systems automatically assumes that you want a combination of keywords.  You will most definitely have to use them when working in journal article databases. 

Here are some sample keyword searches:

  • poor media
  • homeless media
  • homeless* Canada
  • (media or television) and (poor or homeless) . Note the parentheses:  they are used if you want to combine keywords using both connectors, AND and OR.

After you've found some worthwhile results, look at them and scan them for Subject Headings. Subject Headings are terms that have been assigned to each book and they are useful for locating books on the same subject regardless of the terminology used by the author. Using Subject Headings in your search can lead to more accurate results.

Here are some examples of subject headings that may be useful for this topic:

  • Homeless girls -- Canada.
  • Homeless women -- Canada.
  • Homeless girls -- Canada -- Case studies.
  • Homelessness -- Government policy -- Canada.
  • Young women -- Canada -- Case studies.

Journal articles and databases

To find journal or newspaper articles, you can use the Library Catalogue and select A-Z Journals.

There is a number of journal article databases specific to English Literature.  Note that not all databases are created equal. Databases may provide you with full text articles, or only citations, or both. If the full text of the article is not available, most databases at SFU will give you the option to find the article either in print in the Library or in another electronic database.

**TIP**:  Information sources, such as scholarly journal articles, reviews and newspaper articles, can provide factual information & analysis AND the seeds for additional research.  When reading information sources, note the names of significant people or terms that bear on your topic. Use these as search terms to find additional sources.  Scholarly journal articles include a reference list at the end that will point you to related articles - SAVE TIME AND USE THEM!

Below is the list of relevant databases as they appear under the English subject on the Library homepage/Article Databases.  Remember to use your keywords and the "AND" and "OR" commands to combine them.  You can often use the same search you constructed for the Library Catalogue in a database.

  • Academic Search Premier is a very good multidisciplinary database.
  • CBCA Complete is a good database for finding materials on Canadian topics.
  • News indexes are very good for finding information on authors and books and also recent articles on the environment. Try other databases under News Sources such as Canadian Newsstream
  • MLA International Bibliography contains scholarly articles on English literature, linguistics, language and folklore.
  • JSTOR contains full text access to the backfiles of Humanities and Social Science Journals.  No access to the most current issues of journals.  Good English Literature content. 
  • Project MUSE Search is a full-text collection of humanities and social science journals and e-books.

Useful links for finding scholarly journal articles

If your instructor asks for scholarly journals, you will need to learn how to distinguish them from popular or trade journals.