AU Library Guide to Researching

Topics in Women's Studies

This guide is designed to help you become a more confident researcher by taking you through the steps involved in the research process and by highlighting some key online resources for research. It has been developed by AU Library in consultation with faculty and tutors from Women's Studies. If you need a librarian's assistance please use our Ask About a Research Topic Web form. This form lets you know what you can expect from us and asks you for information that will help us to help you.

What is the "research process"? The research process is a method for exploring and examining resources related to a particular topic. It encompasses a range of activities that can be divided into distinct steps.

Step 1 : getting started

  • begin by forming an understanding of what and how much information is needed.
  • think about the requirements of the assignment and gather background information on the topic.

Step 2: developing a search strategy

  • prepare an action plan for seeking out the information you need.
  • state the topic in the form of a research question, break the research question down into concepts, determine appropriate search terms and construct search statements.

Step 3: searching

  • once you know what you need and have a plan for finding it you are ready to search, using tools such as library catalogues, journal databases and the World Wide Web.

Step 4: evaluating, citing, writing

  • think critically about and manage the information sources you located during the searching phase.

Instructions for using this guide:

Use the navigational links at the top of the page to move to each step. Click on the "next" and "prev" links at the bottom of the page to move forwards and backwards in the guide. If you wish to return to this introduction click on "Home". The guide is designed for you to read step by step, or you can jump to an area of interest.

If you would like to comment on this guide send us your suggestions.

You can download a printable version.

Getting Started

Knowing what and how much information is needed keeps you focused as you search for information on your topic. The following steps will help you prepare for research:

Understanding the Assignment

General Background Reading

How to Research

Getting Started

Understanding the Assignment

Think about the nature and requirements of the assignment. This will help you make important decisions about the research process.

What types of sources are you expected to include?
  • Secondary sources: previously published research that is summarized in books or periodical articles.
  • Primary sources: original documents (e.g. government bills) or accounts of firsthand original research conducted by the author of the article or the report.
  • Field research: your original research (e.g. interviews or surveys).
Length of assignment?
  • If you are writing a five-page paper you would in most instances not require as many sources as you would for a fifteen-page paper.
  • Don't let yourself get overwhelmed by trying to include too many sources for a relatively short paper!
  • It is always wise to begin your research as soon as possible.
  • What sources are you able to obtain locally or online?
  • If you need print based materials from AU Library, you will need to allow time for delivery: generally 7-10 days to a Canadian address.
  • As you write your paper you may discover gaps in your research and need time to locate additional information.

Getting Started

General Background Reading

It helps to do some basic, general background reading to get an overview of your topic.

Some suggested sources for background information:

What do you know about your topic from talking to others/previous experience/reading/the media?

Consult course materials such as textbooks, study guides and recommended or supplementary materials.

Consult reference tools such as dictionaries, glossaries, and encyclopedias. You can find reference books at local public, college, or university libraries. View Sample Reference Tools for Women's Studies.

You can also find reference tools online in AU Library's Digital Reference Centre.

Research tip: As you learn more about your topic, and through all stages of the research process, take notes. Write down any important terms or synonyms used to describe your topic. These words will help you develop a list of search terms to use later on. Also, be sure to write down the complete reference (including page numbers) for any information you record. You will need this when you are citing your sources.

Getting Started

How to Research

If you have had little experience with researching and writing academic papers you may find it helpful to consult how-to-guides before beginning your assignment.

The following sources are available online:

The following books are available from AU Library:
  • Feminist Research Methods

Nielsen, Joyce M., ed. Feminist Research Methods: Exemplary Readings in the Social
Sciences. Boulder: Westview Press, 1990. HQ 1180 .F329 1990

Reinharz, Shulamit. Feminist Methods in Social Research. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.
HQ 1180 .R412 1992

Roberts, Helen, ed. Doing Feminist Research. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.
HQ 1180 .D65 1981

Stanley, Liz, ed. Feminist Praxis: Research, Theory, and Epistemology in Feminist
Sociology. London: Routledge, 1990. HQ 1180 .F3295 1990

  • Report Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research
Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 1998. H 62 .H325 1998

Pyrczak, Fred, and Randall R. Bruce. Writing Empirical Research Reports: A Basic
Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 3rd ed. Los Angeles:
2000. LB 2369 .P998 2000

The Sociology Writing Group. A Guide to Writing Sociology Papers. 2nd ed. New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1991. HM 73 .G946 1991

  • Online Research

Ackermann, Ernest C., and Karen Hartman. The Information Specialist's Guide to
Searching and Researching on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Chicago:
Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999. ZA 4201 .A182 1999

Branscomb, H. Eric. Casting Your Net: A Student's Guide to Research on the Internet.
2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. LB 1047.3 .B821 2000

Harmon, Charles, ed. Using the Internet, Online Services, and CD-ROMs for Writing
Research and Term Papers. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2000.
LB 1047.3 .U85 2000

Rodrigues, Dawn, and Raymond Rodrigues. The Research Paper and the World Wide
Web. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ : Prentice Hall, 2000. LB 2369 .R696 2000

  • General Research and Report Writing

Cryer, Pat. The Research Student's Guide to Success. 2nd ed. Buckingham, Eng.: Open
University, 2000. LB 2395 .C957 2000

Harnack, Andrew. Writing Research Papers: A Student Guide for Use with Opposing
Viewpoints. 2nd ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998. LB 2369 .H289 1998

Hult, Christine A. Researching and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Belmont,
CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1986. LB 2369 .H917

Ingram, Ernest J. Projects: A Guide to Their Use and Design. Calgary: Detselig
Enterprises, 1989. LB 2822.75 .I54

Northey, Margot. Making Sense: A Student's Guide to Writing and Style. Toronto:
Oxford UP, 1987. LB 2369 .N874 1987

Norton, Sarah, and Brian Green. Essay Essentials. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
of Canada, 1991. PE 1471 .N888 1991

Veit, Richard. Research: The Student's Guide to Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998. LB 2369 .V428 1998

Weidenborner, Stephen, and Domenick Caruso. Writing Research Papers: A Guide to
the Process. 5th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. LB 1047.3 .W417

Developing a Search Strategy

A search strategy is a plan for seeking out information on a topic. Increasingly we use computers in research--online library catalogues, journal databases, the World Wide Web. The following steps help you express your information need in a way that a computer program will understand.

Pose your Topic in the Form of a Research Question

Break the Research Question Down into Concept Blocks

Use Search Terms to Prepare a Search Statement

Developing a Search Strategy

Pose your Topic in the Form of a Research Question

Whether you are selecting from a suggested list of topics or developing your own topic, write on a topic that interests you. This will help you write a more interesting, convincingly argued paper. Before researching a topic you have developed on your own be sure to discuss it with your tutor.

To focus your topic, state it as a question.

For example, rather than trying to research the much too broad topic women and body image, try asking a question about the topic that interests you:

How can a healthy body image be promoted to adolescent girls?

Is the topic researchable and manageable?

  • If it is too narrow you may not be able to find enough information.
  • If it is too broad you may not be able to deal effectively with it in your paper.

Think about your topic--how can you state it as a question? You will likely find that there are a number of questions you can ask about the topic.

Developing a Search Strategy

Break the Research Question Down into Concept Blocks

Once you have settled on a research question you will need to break the question down into the main concepts or ideas that it contains. You will later use these concepts when you search library resources.

Our sample research question can be broken down into 3 main concepts:

How can a healthy body image be promoted to adolescent girls?
Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
body image promotion adolescent girls

Search Vocabulary: synonyms and related terms

Because different words can be used to describe these concepts, we need to think of what synonyms and/or related terms might be useful in searching for materials. This is important because a computer database will search and retrieve articles containing the words you've typed in, but it will not understand the context of your topic, the meaning of the words, or how they fit together.

Sources for locating search terms:

  • Brainstorm. Try to think of words that would appear in the title of a book or journal article about the topic.
  • Use search terms recorded during the background reading phase.
  • If you already have a relevant article or book in hand examine it for possibly useful search terms.
  • Consult a thesaurus to expand your search vocabulary. Roget's Thesaurus is available online.
  • You may also wish to consult a subject-specific thesaurus such as the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, which is available in the reference collections of most academic libraries.
  • Some databases provide access to an online thesaurus of subjects used in the database.
  • Library of Congress Subject Headings, available in most libraries, is another rich source for terminology.

Concept Map

It helps to record your concepts and their associated search vocabulary in a table or "concept map".


Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
body image promotion adolescent
self-perception education teenager
dieting programs youth
nutrition prevention young adult
eating disorders    

Note the following in our concept map:

This concept map does not include gender. Gender could be incorporated into concept 3 (e.g. adolescent girls, teenage girls) or added as a fourth concept (girls, female, women). If our searches retrieve too many items dealing with the body image of adolescent boys we will want to include gender in the search because we are seeking information about adolescent girls.

Terms describing eating disorders are included with the idea that an article dealing with the topic of healthy body image may discuss its opposite.

We could add a concept for race and/or sexuality to consider social factors. For example, if we wanted information on the promotion of healthy body image to First Nations adolescent girls, to limit the search to that group we would need an additional concept for First Nations.

As you can see, many variations are possible and determining an appropriate search vocabulary is much more an art than a science.

Research tip: It is generally best to avoid searching for too many concepts at once because this can lead to complicated search statements that fail to retrieve relevant items. It can also narrow your search too much from the beginning and cause you to miss out on articles that might be useful.

Think about your research question--what are the main concepts? What synonyms and related terms can be used as search terms?


Developing a Search Strategy

Use Search Terms to Prepare a Search Statement


Now that you have a research question, have identified the main concepts, and know what terms you want to use, you are ready to express your research question in a way that a computer database will understand. To do this you will need to construct a search statement or search string.

  • To express relationships among concepts you will need to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT)
  • To keep search terms together as a concept you will need to use nesting ( )
  • To retrieve alternate word endings you will need to use truncation *

Here is a sample search statement:

body image AND promotion AND (adolescen* OR teen*)

What follows is an explanation of the elements that make up this search statement:

1. In this search statement we have 3 concepts:

concept 1: body image

concept 2: promotion

concept 3: (adolescen* OR teen*)

2. Notice the AND/AND/OR

These are Boolean Operators. The "ANDs" are telling the database that it must retrieve articles with the specified terms for concept 1 and concept 2 and concept 3. The "OR" is telling the database that, in concept 3, either adolescen* or teen* or both these terms are acceptable in the search results.


AND: all of the search terms must be present in the search results

OR: any or all of the search terms must be present in the search results

NOT: excludes search results that contain the specified terms (Use this operator with caution, because if the term is just mentioned in the item, the item will be excluded from your search results)

3. Notice the brackets around (adolescen* OR teen*)

The brackets keep the term adolescen* and the term teen* together in a "nest" so that they are treated as one concept.

Nesting: parentheses (curved brackets) can be used to keep synonyms and related terms together as a concept and to ensure that the database processes the search statement correctly. If you do not "nest" your search terms properly you will end up with an inaccurate search.

4. Notice the asterisk (*) symbols: (adolescen* OR teen*)

The asterisk after the term adolescen* tells the database to retrieve alternate endings such as adolescent/adolescents/adolescence and the asterisk after the term teen* tells the database to retrieve alternate endings such as teen/teens/teenage/teenager/teenagers. This permits you to search on all these variations without having to type them all in.

Truncation: By adding a truncation symbol to the ending of a root word you are able to retrieve both singular and plural forms of the root word as well as other variants in one search. The asterisk (*) is the symbol most commonly used for truncation, but check the database help files because databases vary in the way they handle truncation.

Journal Database Search Forms

Constructing effective search statements takes practice. In addition to providing a basic search box where you can type your search statement in, databases often provide forms that make it a bit easier. These forms are usually found under "guided" or "advanced" search modes. Here's an example:

Research Tip: To improve the effectiveness of your searches try experimenting with different combinations of search terms. It is best to keep your search statements fairly simple. As you use computer databases to search for information on your topic you will likely adjust your search strategy and search statements as you go.

Try developing a concept map and search statements for your research question.

This section provides instruction on how to use three major online research tools:


Library Catalogues

If you are looking for books (and other materials such as videos) on your research topic you may want to search library catalogues.

Keep in mind that you cannot search for journal articles in a library catalogue, only the titles of the journals themselves. Do not use a library catalogue if you want to find journal articles--you must use a journal database instead.

AUCAT is the name of the online catalogue of holdings for Athabasca University Library. As an AU student, you are able to request materials from this catalogue to be sent to you free of charge. The Library has a collection of over 140,000 items and provides access to more than 7000 journals either electronically or in print.

Library catalogues provide you with different ways to search: author, title, keyword, subject, call number, etc. When researching a topic, you will find keyword and subject searches especially useful. It is important to be aware of the differences between these two search types.

Keyword search

Keyword searching is a way to search using everyday language. Librarians use a specialized controlled vocabulary, called subject headings, to describe library materials. Keyword searching permits you to search on terms that naturally describe your topic (for example, words that might appear in the title of a book on the topic). A keyword search will look for the specified terms in a number of different fields of the catalogue record such as title, subject, and contents notes.

Let's try a keyword search in AUCAT for information on our sample research topic: How can a healthy body image be promoted to adolescent girls?

View a keyword search for (body image or self-perception) and (adolescen* or teen*)

Research tip: When searching a library catalogue it is best not to include too many concepts that would narrow your search. Remember you are not searching the full text of a book, but rather indexed fields such as title and subject. The record for the book in the catalogue may not include the word "teenage" or "adolescent", but there could still be a chapter or section in the book that is specific to that age group.

Try searching by keyword in AUCAT for books about your research topic.

Subject search

When you search by subject, you are searching for a subject heading that has been assigned to an item by a librarian. A subject heading is a standardized term used to describe a particular topic and it allows you to search for material using one heading. For example, although many words can be used to describe the movies (e.g. film, cinema) you can search for all of the books about movies under the heading "motion pictures". Of course the drawback to this approach is that sometimes subject headings are quite different from the everyday language we use: when was the last time you said I saw a really great motion picture last weekend ?

There are a number of ways to find out subject headings for your topic:

  • The subject headings you will most commonly encounter in libraries are the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). If you have physical access to a library, you can check the LCSH (popularly known as "the big red books") to see what vocabulary is used in library catalogues to describe your topic. In addition to LCSH, you will find that most Canadian libraries also use Canadian Subject Headings (CSH).
  • You can also try guessing at subject headings. Some library catalogues use cross-references that will direct from an unused heading to one that is used in the catalogue.
  • A frequently used approach is to search by keyword and once you locate an item that looks relevant examine the subject headings assigned to that item and then search on those.
  • View a list of some subject headings that are useful in researching Women's Studies topics.

View a subject search for body image.

Try searching by subject in AUCAT for books about your research topic.

Call numbers

If you have physical access to a library's collection, once you locate some books on your topic in the catalogue, you may want to try browsing the shelves under the call numbers you've gathered. AUCAT also allows you to search and browse by call number.

Requesting materials

If you locate items in AUCAT that you wish to borrow, you can submit an online request to have items sent to you using the "Request this Item" feature or you can contact AU Library. Consult a help page for details on how to use this feature.

Helpful links:

Learn more about searching AUCAT.

Search other library catalogues.

Find out about getting borrowing privileges at other libraries through TAL and CURBA.


Journal Databases

A journal database enables you to search for the "periodical literature" on a topic. Journals, magazines and newspapers are examples of periodicals. They are published periodically at regular, stated intervals (e.g. daily, monthly, etc.). Remember that a library catalogue will only let you look up the title of a journal. A journal database allows you to search the contents of a journal and will sometimes even make the full article available to you on your computer screen.

Most journal databases provide access to literature from the 1980s and up; for some topics you may need to use a print-based tool called a periodical index to look up older literature on the topic.

Research tip: Books are useful for a general overview of a topic, but are usually not as up-to-date as recently published journal articles, because of the time it takes between the author's writing of the book and publication. Periodical articles tend to deal with more specific topics than books and take less time to get published so they are an excellent source of current information on a topic.

Accessing AU Library's journal databases:

AU students, faculty and staff have remote access to AU Library's suite of journal databases via the Internet. If you have difficulty getting into the databases you may need to make a few small changes to your browser (e.g. Internet Explorer or Netscape) settings. If you have access problems consult FAQ's Regarding Remote Access to Journal Databases or contact AU Library.

Selecting appropriate databases:

AU Library subscribes to over 60 online journal databases. You will need to identify which databases are likely to contain articles relevant to researching your topic in Women's Studies. It might help to consult a list of Recommended Databases for Women's Studies. You can also consult the full alphabetical listing of journal databases by title or the listing of journal databases by subject.

Some databases include more specialized scholarly content than others:

  • Are you looking for journal articles that are written by specialists in the field and are peer-reviewed (e.g. Feminist Media Studies)?
  • Do you need magazine articles or news stories that present the popular view of a topic (e.g. Chatelaine)?
  • Some databases contain both types of sources.

Databases differ in the amount of content they provide:

  • Citation: provides information you will need to locate a particular journal article. Typically consists of author(s), date, article title, journal title, volume, issue and page numbers.
  • Abstract: a short description of the content of an article.
  • Full text: the complete text of the article is available to you immediately on your computer screen. It can usually be printed, e-mailed or saved to a file.

What if only the citation is provided?

Research tip: In addition to having remote access to AU Library's databases, you may find that you have access to local libraries that will allow you to use their databases as well as their print-based periodical collections on site.
Let's try searching for journal articles on our sample research topic
How can a healthy body image be promoted to adolescent girls? using Academic Search Premier, a multidisciplinary database that covers a variety of topics and includes many journals that are important for Women's Studies research.

Keyword searching:

Keyword searching allows you to search for terms as they occur anywhere in the record for the journal article: title, subject, full text, etc.

View a keyword search for (body image or eating disorders) and (promotion or education) and (adolescen* or teen*)

As you run your searches in the online databases you may wish to add or drop search terms or even concepts. Effective online searching is the art of adjusting your search strategy to fit the research topic and the particular database being searched. View tips on ways to broaden or narrow a search.

Subject searching:

Contents (articles/abstracts/citations) of databases are indexed and assigned subject headings by specialists. The headings are not necessarily Library of Congress Subject Headings, but they are often similar. Most databases provide a way to search the subject field and some allow you to browse their subject index or thesaurus.

This approach is comparable to searching by subject in a library catalogue. A useful strategy is to locate a relevant article using keywords, examine the subject headings assigned to it and then try searching by subject. The advantage in searching by subject is that all articles on the topic are found together under the one heading. This can help increase the relevancy of your search results.

View a subject search for body image.

Research tip: Databases vary in what indexed fields (e.g. title/keyword/author/subject) they allow you to search. They also vary in their limit functions. Most allow you to limit by publication date. Some allow you to limit by type of publication, by language, etc. Be sure to check database help files before you start searching!

Try searching Academic Search Premier for journal articles about your research topic.

Searching for Journal Titles:

In addition to searching journal databases by keyword and by subject for journal articles on your research topic, you may also want to target specific journals. Keep in mind that although a bit of browsing can be useful, for the most part you will need to use journal databases to see if a journal has a relevant article on your topic. Journal databases are the key to the contents of journals. Most journal databases provide a means to search by publication (e.g. journal name). Check database help files for more information.

To determine what journals AU subscribes to either in print or electronically you can use Search for a Journal Title. If you are not finding what you need contact AU Library.

To determine what journals are relevant to Women's Studies research you can identify and locate journal titles in library catalogues by searching under subject with the subdivision "periodicals". For example use feminism -- periodicals or women's studies -- periodicals.

View a list of selected periodicals for Women's Studies.


World Wide Web

The World Wide Web (WWW) is a vast electronic network of information and one can easily get lost trying to find quality information. To avoid wasting time when researching it is important to approach the Web as you would any other information tool: have a search strategy and be ready to adjust it as you learn more about what/how much is available on your topic.

Although it is important to think critically about any information you encounter, the Web poses special challenges because the quality of information available through the Web is quite uneven. The section on evaluating information will provide you with some useful tips for dealing with Web-based information sources.

When to search the WWW:

The Web is not always the best place to start researching your topic. In order to determine whether this is the case or not, ask yourself some questions: What am I looking for? Where else might I find this information?

Generally speaking it is recommended that you begin your search in a library catalogue or a journal database--something that you know has reputable information. Sometimes as you research you will discover information gaps that the Web may be able to fill.

Searching the World Wide Web:

The most common way to locate information on the Web is to use a search engine. A search engine uses a "spider" or "robot" that travels continually from server to server all around the Web. It scans URLs, page titles, and, sometimes, even all the words and images within pages, and builds up an index. There are many different search engines. No search engine or directory indexes all of the Web. They vary in their search functions and in their coverage of the Web.

You can apply much of what you have learned about using Boolean operators and constructing a search statement to WWW searching. The most important thing is to look at the search engine's help files so that you will know what operators and search functions it supports. A Web search typically retrieves a large number of results, many of which are not relevant to the research topic. You will need to evaluate and adjust your search statement as you go.

Important note for searching the Web: Should you capitalize or not capitalize the Boolean Operators? In most journal databases you don't need to worry about this: the database will accept or as well as OR. However, search engines can differ quite a bit. As a general practice it is recommended that you capitalize your Boolean Operators because some search engines such as Google and AltaVista require capitalization of the operator OR.

View a sample search using the AltaVista search engine.

View a sample search using the Google search engine.

Some quick tips for improving your Web searches:

  • Read the help files to get to know the different search engines
  • Realize you may need to try a number of search engines
  • Be as specific as possible in your search statement
  • Consider using the Canadian versions of search engines for Canadian content (e.g. Google Canada)
  • Think about where on the Web you might find information (if your topic involves women's health try searching the Health Canada Web site, for example)
  • Consult lists or tools for accessing recommended sites (Women's Web Information, for example)
  • Browse a subject directory (Yahoo!, for example, lets you look up your topic by subjects such as Education, Health, Social Science, etc.)
  • Try visiting a Virtual Library, such as Internet Public Library
  • Evaluate your searches--should you try a different strategy?

To learn more about WWW searching:

AU Library Internet Searching

Doing Research from a Distance

Internet for Women's Studies

Try using Google or AltaVista to search the WWW for information on your research topic.


Evaluating, Citing, Writing

The research process is about more than just detective work or scouting out information sources. It also involves:




Evaluating, Citing, Writing


The research process requires you to think critically about the information you locate. Is the information of a quality and relevance suitable to your specific information needs? Evaluation is a critical aspect of research: you need to evaluate both your search strategies in retrieving information as well as the information you retrieve.

Whether you located your information in books, in journal articles, on the Web, or from any other source, you must examine it critically. Information found on the Web can be especially problematic: it has not gone through the traditional publishing process and its authority and accuracy are often difficult to verify.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:


  • Is the author an expert in the field you are researching?
  • Is the author associated with a reputable organization?
  • Who is the publisher? Recognizable, educational, government? For example, if you need Canadian statistics for your research, try looking for publications from Statistics Canada.
  • For journal articles: is the article from a scholarly, peer-reviewed (refereed) journal?
  • For the Internet: it is sometimes difficult to determine authorship for Web pages. Look especially for sites from educational institutions or governments. Does the author provide contact/biographical information?

Research tip: When you find an author that has written on your topic it is useful to see if she has written other books or articles or papers on the topic. Try searching for the author's name in library catalogues. Try searching journal databases by author.

  • What is the publication date?
  • For your specific topic, is the information dated? Do you need current or historical information or both?
  • For the Internet: when was the Web page last revised or updated?


  • Does it contribute to your knowledge of the topic?
  • Does it refute/support the arguments you are presenting? It is often useful to include in a meaningful way both materials that refute and that support your arguments.
  • Is there useful background information presented?
  • Is it written from a women-centred or feminist perspective?
  • Does the material focus on women?
  • In addition to gender, does the author take into account other material factors such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, age and so on?

Research tip: When you find a useful article on your topic be sure to check the references and notes to see what research the author has consulted. This is your key to related research.

  • Is a particular point of view or perspective being presented to the extent that accuracy is compromised?
  • What is the purpose of the information: to inform/educate/sell?
  • Are facts cited and references supplied so that the information can be verified in credible sources? Poorly documented information is immediately suspect.
  • For the Internet: be wary of documents posted on commercial sites (.com).


  • Is there a section in the book useful to your research even if the entire book is not specifically about your topic? For example a general book on body image may contain information about adolescent girls and ideas about promoting a healthy image to them.
  • Does the author let you know what is covered and what is excluded?
  • Who is included in the study, who is left out and what difference does it make?
  • Are points of view other than the author's acknowledged and discussed (Examples of points of view in feminist scholarship include liberal feminism, cultural feminism, and materialist feminism)?

To learn more about evaluating information you find on the Internet:

AU Library. Internet Searching/Evaluating Web Information

Doing Research from a Distance

Evaluating, Citing, Writing


Throughout the research process you will need to manage information sources. You are responsible for maintaining a record of the information sources from which you draw ideas, paraphrase, and quote. When you are writing your paper you will need to document your sources so that you clearly distinguish the ideas and words of other authors from what represents your original thinking. This task of documentation using a standardized citation style is an essential step in ensuring that the reader is informed of the origins of the material. Failure to do so results in plagiarism, or intellectual theft, which is a serious academic offense.

The method for citing sources must be standardized so that it is possible for your reader to locate and consult your sources. In Women's Studies, MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) Styles are used. If you are unsure of which style to use, please ask your tutor.

Citation styles are used to accomplish two things in your paper:

1. To create a Works Cited or References list, which is a list of all the sources you cited in the text of your paper. This appears at the end of the paper.

2. To link the information in the text of your paper to the sources from which that information is derived. Parenthetical documentation is the simplest method. The parenthetical citations, which appear in the text of the paper, are keyed to the list of sources that you include at the end of the paper.

The following books are available from AU Library:

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New
York:Modern Language Association of America, 1999.

Harnack, Andrew and Eugene Kleppinger. Online!: A Reference Guide to Using
Internet Sources. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001.

The following help is available on the Web:

online! a reference guide to using internet sources

OWL at Purdue University: Using APA Format

OWL at Purdue University: Using MLA Format

Official Web sites:

APA (American Psychological Association)

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Evaluating, Citing, Writing


Another important aspect of managing information is writing the paper. You may wish to consult the list of recommend guides for researching and writing papers presented earlier as many of these provide helpful tips.

Here are some quick tips:

  • If you write an outline of the main points you intend to cover in your paper this will help keep you focused.
  • Don't worry too much about spelling, punctuation, structure, etc., in your first draft--let your words and ideas flow.
  • Be aware that you may need to revise the paper a number of times. You will need to rearrange and restructure entire parts and add or drop paragraphs as you revise.
  • Your first and final paragraphs are the most important sections of your paper. Your introduction informs the reader of your purpose or thesis and your conclusion reminds your reader of your purpose, your main supporting arguments and how they fit together.
  • Be clear and concise in your writing so that you convey information to your reader effectively.
  • Use a citation style to give credit to other writers for what you borrow from them.
  • For your final draft you will need to edit carefully. The spell checker and grammar checker in your Word processing software cannot determine context so make sure you manually check your work. It helps to have someone else proofread your work as well.

The following additional resources are available on the Web:

Athabasca University. Developing Study Skills

Athabasca University Counselling Services. Write On: Learn to Love your Term Paper

Jacobson, Carolyn. Non-Sexist Language

Strunk, William. The Elements of Style

University of Toronto. Advice on Academic Writing

Linked Pages


Sample Reference Tools for Women's Studies

Check local libraries for availability.
These items are usually in a Reference collection and designated in-library use only.

Subject Dictionaries

  • Use for clarification of terminology, within the context of a field of study.
  • Locate relevant dictionaries in a library catalogue by searching under the subject heading: "feminism-dictionaries", as well as other terms followed by the subdivision "dictionaries".

Andermahr, Sonya, et al. A Glossary of Feminist Theory. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.

Boles, Janet K., et al. From the Goddess to the Glass Ceiling: A Dictionary of Feminism. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1996.

Gamble, Sarah, ed. The Icon Critical Dictionary of Feminism and Postmodernism.
Cambridge: Icon Books, 1999.

Kramarae, Cheris, and Paula A. Treichler. A Feminist Dictionary: In Our Own Words. London: Pandora Press, 1985.


  • Use to locate contact information for associations, agencies, organizations, services, etc.
  • Locate relevant directories in a library catalogue by searching under the subject heading: "women - directories", as well as other terms followed by the subdivision "directories". Look for the most recent edition, when appropriate.

Barrett, Jacqueline K., and Jane A. Malonis, eds. Encyclopedia of Women's Associations Worldwide: A Guide to Over 3,400 National and Multinational Nonprofit Women's and Women-related Organizations. London: Gale Research, 1993.

Making a World of Difference: A Directory of Women in Canada Specializing in Global Issues. Ottawa: Women's Directory Project, Canadian Council for International Co-operation, 1990.

Women's Information Directory. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993-


  • Use to locate general overviews of a subject and factual and background information, usually written by a subject expert.
  • Locate relevant encyclopedias in a library catalogue by searching under the subject headings: "feminism - encyclopedias" or "women - encyclopedias", as well as other terms followed by the subdivision "encyclopedias".

McFadden, Margaret, ed. Women's Issues. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 1997.

Tierney, Helen, ed. Women's Studies Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood
Press, 1999.

Young, Serinity, ed. Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1999.


  • Use to find information and miscellaneous facts in a field of knowledge.
  • Locate relevant handbooks in a library catalogue by searching under the subject headings: "women -- handbooks, manuals, etc. " or "feminism -- handbooks, manuals, etc.", as well as other terms followed by the subdivision: "handbooks".

Almey, Marcia. Finding Data on Women: A Guide to the Major Data Sources at Statistics Canada. Ottawa: Status of Women Canada, 1998.

Harlan, Judith. Feminism: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO,

Rosenfeld, Jo Ann, ed. Handbook of Women's Health: An Evidence-Based Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Sample keyword search in AUCAT:

1. Click on "Keyword" from the Main Menu in AUCAT.


2. Enter the search statement (body image or self-perception) and (adolescen* or
teen*). Click on "Search".

3. Search result screen: 8 items retrieved. Click on a title to view the record.

4. Record for selected item showing call number and availability.


Sample subject search in AUCAT:

1. Click on "Subject" from the Main Menu in AUCAT.

2. Enter the term body image. Click on "Submit Search".

3. Search result screen: 7 subjects retrieved. Start by clicking on the first subject heading (body image) to view the records for items listed under that subject.


4. Search result screen: 13 items retrieved under the subject "body image".
Click on a title to view the record.


5. Record for selected item showing call number and availability.

Selected Subject Headings for Women's Studies

Discrimination in employment
Family violence
Feminism and Education
Feminist literary criticism
Feminist theory
Sex discrimination against women
Sex role
Wife abuse
Wife abuse--Canada
Women and Religion
Women--Health and hygiene
Women in literature
Women in mass media
Women--Social conditions
Women's studies

Sample keyword search in Academic Search Premier:

1. Click on "Journal Databases" from the AU Library Web site menu.

2. List Databases by Title.

3. Select Academic Search Premier from the listing of databases (You will be required to enter your name and student ID number on an AU authentication screen).

4. Select Academic Search Premier from the listing of EBSCO databases.



5. Enter the search statement: (body image or eating disorders) and (promotion or education) and (adolescen* or teen*). Place a checkmark in the box beside "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" to limit the search. To retrieve only articles for which full text is available place a checkmark beside "Full Text". Click on "Search".


6. Search results: 16 items retrieved. Click on an item to display the record. Notice there are options for HTML full text or PDF full text. PDF requires that you have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your PC and provides you with the article as it would look in a print journal.


7. Record for item #1.


*****You can run this same search using the database search forms provided under Advanced Search. Notice how the form helps you keep concepts together and provides areas to select Boolean operators. Parentheses are no longer necessary.


Tips on ways to broaden or narrow a search:

Too few results? You may need to broaden your search.

  • Think of more synonyms/related terms to be combined with the OR operator (e.g. body image or eating disorders or dieting or nutrition).
  • Use truncation to vary the ending of words. The asterisk * is the symbol commonly used for truncation, but check the database help files (e.g. educ* would retrieve education/educational/educate)
  • The AND operator narrows a search. You may want to reduce the number of concepts you require. We could drop the concept promotion and search for two concepts (e.g. body image and teenage).
  • Remove limits such as a full text limit.

Too many results? You may need to narrow your search.

  • Try removing some of the synonyms/related terms (e.g. just search on body image).
  • Do you need to add another concept to focus your search? (e.g. if the search retrieved too many articles on male adolescents you could add terms to search for articles about female adolescents).
  • Impose limits such as full text, scholarly, publication dates, etc.
  • Use quotations for phrase searching (e.g. "body image"). This ensures that your search terms appear together and in the specified order.



Sample subject search in Academic Search Premier:

1. There are a number of ways to search by subject, but the easiest way is to use "Advanced Search".


2. Enter the words body image into the first "find" box and then click on the arrow beside "Default Fields".


3. When you click on this arrow you get a pull down menu. Select "SU Subject".


4. "Default Fields" will change to "SU Subject". Click on "Search".


5. This search retrieved 883 items! We need to narrow the search.


6. In the second "find" box type in adolescent and under "Default fields" change this to "TI Title" so that we are limiting our search to documents that have the word adolescent in the title and that have body image in the subject. Click on "Search".


7. This narrows the search and retrieves 73 items.




Recommended Databases for Women's Studies:

When researching a topic in Women's Studies, many different databases may be used depending on the nature of the topic.

Multidisciplinary databases are an excellent starting point for researching a wide range of topics and often include the full text of articles:

Academic Search Premier

Expanded Academic ASAP

Wilson OmniFile

Women Studies databases are dedicated to issues affecting women:

Contemporary Women's Issues

Social Sciences databases are useful because many Women's Studies topics fall within that discipline or field of study:


Sociological Abstracts

Canadian databases are useful when you need Canadian content, data, and statistics on a topic. Keep in mind that many of these databases tend to include a good deal of popular sources such as newspapers and magazines although you will find some scholarly journal articles as well.

Canadian Newsstand

CBCA (Canadian Business and Current Affairs)

CPIQ (Canadian Periodical Index Quarterly)

Your Women's Studies Topic might fall into other disciplines and databases, such as:

Health databases e.g. Proquest Nursing Journals

Business databases e.g. ABI/Inform

Psychology databases e.g. PsycInfo

To see all of the databases to which AU Library subscribes: List Databases by Title.

To see subject guides to the databases: List Databases by Subject.

Selected key periodicals for Women's Studies


ASP = full text in Academic Search Premier database
AUCAT= available in AU print collection
CPIQ=full text in CPIQ database
HRC= full text in Health Reference Center database

Atlantis (AUCAT)
Australian Feminist Studies (ASP)
Canadian Journal of Women & the Law (AUCAT)
Canadian Woman Studies (CPIQ)
Feminist Economics (ASP)
Feminist Media Studies (ASP)
Feminist Studies (ASP)
Gender and Development (ASP)
Gender and Education (ASP)
Gender, Place and Culture (ASP)
International Feminist Journal of Politics (ASP)
Journal of Gender Studies (ASP)
Journal of Women's History (ASP)
Psychology, Evolution & Gender (ASP)
Signs (ASP)
Women: A Cultural Review (ASP)
Women & Health (HRC)
Women & Therapy (AUCAT)
Women's Studies International Forum (AUCAT)

Sample search using the AltaVista search engine:

1. Whether you are searching library catalogues, journal databases or the WWW, it is always a good idea to have a look at the help files to see how Boolean Operators, truncation, and other search functions are handled. Here is a snapshot of part of the AltaVista help file. You can see that AltaVista supports the Boolean Operators AND/OR/AND NOT, truncation * and nesting () among other search functions.


2. Enter the search statement into the search box: "body image" and education and (adolescen* OR teen*)

AltaVista accepts either and/AND, but OR must be capitalized. Put quotation marks around "body image" to ensure that it is searched as a phrase.

Click on "FIND".


3. Search results: AltaVista found 18,124 results. Large result sets are fairly typical for Web searches. Click on the title to retrieve the Web page. Most searchers don't look beyond the first ten to twenty results or so. Is there a way to focus the search, reduce the result set, and increase relevance?


4. There are many possibilities. Let's try a very narrow search:

strategies AND promoting AND "healthy body image" AND adolescen*

This search retrieves a much more manageable result set: 134 items. Of course not all items will be relevant, of appropriate quality to include in a research paper, or free of charge.



Sample search using the Google search engine:

1. Google is quite different from many other search engines in that AND is a default. That means that you do not need to type the AND because Google assumes it is there. Google does not support truncation. To retrieve plurals and other word variations you must search on them.

Enter "body image" education (adolescent OR adolescents) into the search box and click on "Google Search'.


2. This search retrieves 18, 900 items.