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International Studies 230: Library research guide

If you need help, please contact Ean Henninger, Liaison Librarian for History, Political Science, Liberal Studies, and International Studies at 778.782.5043 or ehenning@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

Getting Started

  • IS 230 course outline
  • For a step-by-step overview of the research process, see Start Your Research Here
  • Define or clarify any terms with which you are uncertain. See Dictionaries in the Subject Guide for a list of resources. Some valuable online sources include:
    • Oxford Reference Online for essays on topics in many subject areas. You can limit your search to Politics and Social Science. NOTE: there is a user limit, so please log out when finished.
    • Europa World for detailed information on every country in the world
    • CIA World Fact Book for quick facts on countries of the world
  • Try the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica for encyclopedia articles on your topics. Links to journal articles are often included in search results.
  • In the library catalogue, find books that cover general concepts in international studies by entering a search something like this:
    • globalization and (encyclopedia or handbook)

Structuring Your Search

Before you start searching, think clearly about your topic and plan your search. Suppose you want to research the following topic:

Does transnationalism affect the environment?

First, identify the keywords or concepts in your question, e.g., transnationalism, environment.

Next, brainstorm synonyms, related terms, and alternate spellings for each of these key concepts:

  • transnationalism: closely-related terms like migration, diaspora
  • environment: related terms like water, land, air
  • globalization: sometimes spelt globalisation, and perhaps a broader term like multinational

Begin your search with the most "obvious" terms: transnationalism and environment

A slightly more complex search for the topic: Discuss the impact of transnationalism on Asian art might look like this:

(transnational* or diaspora* or migrat*) and (art or film or music or painting) and Asia

The * symbol truncates the word, that is, it directs the search engine to look for all words with that root; so, transnational* will search transnational, transnationalism, etc.

Once you've found a good result or two, take a closer look. Note the subject headings. Searching a term (like "transnationalism") as a subject rather than as a keyword will yield more precise results. If you would like more results, try adding or substituting other terms from your list. Often, the key to a successful search is finding the right search terms. Having a few to work with increases your chances of finding something useful.

Tips for using the Library Catalogue

  • If you are combining search terms for a more focused search, be sure to link your terms with and (unlike Google); for example, united nations and peacekeeping
  • If you are searching a big concept like "globalization", try using a "Subject" search rather than a "Keyword" search
  • Once you've found an item that matches your topic, look at the "Subject" terms in the item record. They may lead to other good materials on the topic.
  • Use the "Advanced keyword" option if you are searching several terms together or if you would like to search keywords and subject terms together

Searching for Journal Articles: Using the article databases

Searching the web

be (a)ware--it's a jungle out there! See How to Critically Evaluate Sources for tips on selecting authoritative web material.

Citing your sources and writing assistance

Contact the Student Learning Commons for one-on-one help with essay writing. 

Once you decide you want to use a particular article, book, or website, save the citation information. This is very important, as you will need to cite all your sources, i.e., create a reference list that gives accurate information about where you found the information you are using in your paper. Citing is important because:

  • your professor or another researcher can use your citations to find the original sources you read for your paper
  • you are acknowledging that your ideas were borrowed from someone else

Quick guides to APA. MLA, and other styles at Write your paper and cite your sources.