Frequently Asked Questions - Research Help

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What are primary sources and secondary sources, and how can I find them?

Primary sources:

  • are created at the time of, or very soon after, an event, or
  • are created by a person who directly experienced the event
  • examples: diaries, letters, interviews, newspaper and magazine articles at the time of the event

Secondary sources:

  • are created after the original event
  • provide criticism or interpretation of the event and its primary sources
  • examples: textbooks, biographies, books and articles about past events

Some starting points to find primary sources:

  • search the library catalogue for your topic and include one of the following words or phrases:
    • autobiography
    • correspondence
    • description and travel
    • diaries
    • interviews
    • personal narratives
    • pictorial works
    • sources
  • use an appropriate tool from this list: Historical Journal, Magazine and Newspaper Articles

 For more information on defining and finding primary and secondary sources, please see these links:

How do I use to find out if an article or journal is academic / scholarly or peer-reviewed / refereed?

  • go to our Ulrichsweb page, and click on the title to connect
  • at Ulrichsweb type the publication title into the text box and click Search
  • find your publication title in the resulting list, and click its title to see the details
  • if your title is academic/scholarly, the Basic Description section will include a line that says: "Content Type: Academic/Scholarly"
  • if your title is peer-reviewed/refereed, the description will include a line that says: "Refereed: Yes".
  • a referee shirt icon will also display in the Basic Description and in the search results list, if the title is peer-reviewed


What is a scholarly, or academic, journal?

Articles in "scholarly" journals, also known as "academic" journals, are distinguished from those in mass-media magazines (Maclean's, Chatelaine, Newsweek) by the following characteristics:

  • they report on or review original research, experimentation, or in-depth analysis
  • their authors are scholars (researchers, experts) in a particular field of study, and are identified as such
  • they are formal in writing style and format, aimed at a specialized, academic audience and use specialized language
  • articles tend to be lengthy and usually consist of a number of distinct sections such as: abstract (a short summary of the article); introduction and statement of the problem; literature review; methodology; data collection; analysis; conclusions and recommendations for further research
  • sources are cited with footnotes or a bibliography at the end of the article
  • they contain little, if any advertising
  • Examples: American Sociological Review; Brain and Cognition; British Journal of Aesthetics
  • to verify whether a journal is scholarly you can also look up the journal in

Most, though not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed.


How can I tell if a journal is peer reviewed?

There are 3 major ways to find out if a particular journal is peer reviewed (refereed):

  • If you're searching for articles in certain interfaces (Scholars Portal, EBSCO), you can limit your search to peer-reviewed sources simply by selecting a tab or checking a box on the search screen.
  • If you're looking at the journal itself, look at the editorial statement or instructions to authors (usually in the first few pages of the journal or at the end) for references to the peer-review process.
  • Another way is to look up the journal in (AKA Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory) to find out whether the journal is peer reviewed. If Ulrichsweb says the journal is "refereed", it's peer reviewed.
  • Tip: an easy way to look up a journal in Ulrichsweb is to click the Get it! button for the article, and at the bottom of the Get it! window, click "More Options" then click "Learn more about this journal". You will go to Ulrich's automatically and see the info for the journal, including if it's peer-reviewed (refereed) or not.


How do I find a journal or newspaper article on my topic?

The Find Article guide should get you started. If you need more help finding articles, ask us!

How can I access Canadian Census files online?

Library and Archives Canada provides free online tools for searching Canadian Census files.

Follow the link to Library and Archives Canada and click on search only 'Archives'. On this page, you will see a list of ArchiviaNet research tools where all available Census files are available.

If you need some general information about the files, click on the link for the Canadian Genealogy Centre.

Can I install software or use a CD-ROM from course materials or textbook in the library computers?

If the CDROM requires you to install software on the hard drive, the CDROM cannot be used in the library or the computer labs.

If the CDROM is read-only and does not need installation, then it can be used in the library or computer labs.

Note: if you borrow one of the loaner laptops from the Mills, Thode, or Innis Libraries, you can install software; however, if the laptop needs rebooting to finish the installation, the install will not be successful. Rebooting returns the laptop to its original state (thus wiping out any user-installed software).

How can I find out more about Get It! or obtain further assistance?

For assistance using Get It!, get in touch with Research Help.

For technical queries and troubleshooting, please visit the SFX overview page at the Ex Libris Group website.

How do I access journals located in the Hamilton Health Library Network?

If you are a McMaster student, staff or faculty member:

  • to get a copy of an article in a journal held by one of the Hamilton Health Library Network libraries, you may request the article through RACER (you can find more info on RACER and Interlibrary Loan on this page).

If you're not a McMaster student, staff or faculty member:

  • Usually the collections at the hospital libraries (e.g. Joseph Brant) are not available except to hospital personnel.
  • One option would be to travel to a library that owns the journal. You can find out which Ontario libraries own a journal by searching for the journal in RACER (you can login with guest access).
  • Before actually going to one of these libraries, however, it's advisable to double-check that they actually own the issue you require, and will allow outside users to access it. You can check individual library catalogues through links on this page.
  • If you don't want to travel to another library to obtain the article, you may inquire at your local public library to see if they will obtain the journal article for you through their Interlibrary Loan department.


How can I find electronic journals by title?

Please follow the instructions on this page.