All Research Guides

Basic Library Guide

Start by Defining Your Topic

Identify the main concepts in your topic, then phrase them as keywords and try to think of synonyms for your keywords. Use Boolean logic to formulate an effective search strategy. If you need help with defining your topic, ask at the Reference Desk, 2nd Floor, Library, or if you are off-campus, use the Ask a Librarian chat reference service.

Determine what Resources you Need

Consider what kinds of library resources you need. For example, does your assignment require you to find books? Journal articles? Peer-reviewed journal articles? If you are looking for books, go to the Library catalogue. If you are looking for journal articles, including peer-reviewed journal articles, then go to Articles and Indexes, and then select an appropriate database from the Find an Article/Index by Subject listing. 

Identify Relevant Library Resources

Once you've executed a search and are reviewing results to determine relevancy, consider the following: How current is the resource - was it published recently, or is it dated? Is there a bibliography or footnotes? How often do the keywords you searched occur in the item record? If you are looking at journal articles, are they published in peer-reviewed journals? Asking these kinds of questions will help you identify which resources will be of use.

Cite your References

Remember when preparing your bibliography to cite all of the references in your paper using the citation style required by your instructor. Some commonly used formats at Ryerson are APA or MLA. Please also see the information available on RefWorks, a web-based bibliographic citation manager which allows you to create correctly formatted bibliographies in the style of your choice.

Multidisciplinary Research Databases

The following databases can be used to find articles on a wide variety of topics. 

ProQuest Research Library
ProQuest Research Library provides access to full-text journals across a wide range of subject areas, including business, education, literature, political science, and psychology. Over 2,600 journal titles are covered. Nearly two-thirds of the titles covered in Research Library offer complete articles in the ASCII full-text, full-image, or Text+Graphics formats. An extensive backfile dates from 1986 onwards for many publications.

Academic Search Premier
Academic Search Premier provides full text for over 2,000 academic, social sciences, humanities, general science, education and multi-cultural journals. In addition to the full text, this database offers indexing and abstracts for approximately 3,500 journals. Most journals are peer reviewed.

Academic Onefile
Source for peer-reviewed, full-text articles from the world's leading journals and reference sources. Extensive coverage of the physical sciences, technology, medicine, social sciences, the arts, theology, literature and other subjects.

CBCA Complete Resource has Canadian focus
Canadian Business & Current Affairs (CBCA) is Canada's largest and most comprehensive bibliographic full text reference and current events database. CBCA Complete combines full text and indexed content from all four CBCA database subsets: Reference, Current Events, Business and Education.

CPI.Q Resource has Canadian focus
CPI.Q provides comprehensive coverage of over 400 Canadian and international periodicals. All subject areas are represented, with an emphasis on mainstream and academic titles available in Canadian libraries.

Dissertations & Theses Resource has Canadian focus
PQDT Global offers access to the full range of ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text content plus additional international content (over 1.5 million PHD dissertations in overall). It also includes PQDT - UK & Ireland, which grants access to over 500,000 abstracts from UK & Irish PhD theses (the content from our PQDT - UK & Ireland database).

Provides business news and information, including the combination of The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Dow Jones and Reuters newswires and the Associated Press, as well as Reuters Fundamentals, and D&B company profiles. Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company, provides global content with multiple language interfaces and multilingual content covering nearly 8,000 sources.

Database of current article information taken from over 28,000 multi-disciplinary journals. Contains brief descriptive information.

LexisNexis Academic Universe
This service provides full-text documents from over 5,600 news, business, legal, medical, and reference publications. National and regional newspapers, wire services, broadcast transcripts, international news, and non-English language sources Canadian federal and provincial case law Canadian legislation U.S. Federal and state case law, codes, regulations, legal news, law reviews, and international legal information Shepards Citations for all U.S. Supreme Court cases back to 1789 Business news journals, company financial information, SEC filings and reports, and industry and market news.

ProQuest Newsstand (Canada)
This database detailed indexing helps users quickly find the news information they need. Each issue of each newspaper is indexed thoroughly, so researchers have access to not only top news stories but also the information contained on the various sections of the papers. The indexing covers not only complete bibliographic information but also companies, people, products, etc.

Web of Science
Web of Science is the online version of the Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index and the Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Users can search 8,500 international research journals in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities. The Web of Science also provides cited reference searching.

Finding Peer Reviewed Articles

The range of journals the Library subscribes to includes scholarly journals, trade publications, popular magazines and newsletters. Many scholarly journals are peer reviewed, and your instructors will expect you to be able to find this kind of information for your research papers.

What is Peer Review?

Peer review is the process through which experts in a field of study such as occupational health and safety assess the quality of articles that are submitted to a journal for publication. They differ from non-scholarly sources, which do not require this level of assessment and review prior to publication.

A number of databases to which the Library subscribes provide limits which will isolate peer reviewed articles from other kinds of articles.

You can also determine which journals are peer reviewed by consulting the electronic versions of the Ulrich's Periodical Directory or the Serials Directory. The full record for any journal listed in these directories indicates if it is peer reviewed.

Journal Abbreviations

Many of the periodical indexes give the titles of journals and periodicals in abbreviated form. You cannot use periodical title abbreviations to search the Ryerson Library Catalogue or Journals by Title A-Z, so you must first find the full title. Several tools are available to help you expand abbreviations.


Abbreviation.com (All That JAS: Journal Abbreviation Sources)

For Medline titles, use PubMed. Type the journal abbreviation that you found in the Journals Referenced in the NCBI Databases box.

For other titles, try the CISTI Catalogue. Click on "Title" in the menu list, then enter your abbreviation in the box provided.

If you are having difficulties, ask the staff at the Reference Desk for assistance.

Oxford Reference

  • Oxford Reference is an authoritative online reference resource that contains encyclopedias, bilingual dictionaries, thesauri, language reference, biographies, quotations, abbreviations and more. Subjects covered include architecture, art, classical studies, history, law, literature, medicine, media studies, music, philosophy, religion, science, and social sciences.

Gale Virtual Reference Library

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library is a database of encyclopedias and specialized reference sources for multidisciplinary research. Subjects covered include Business, education, environment, history, information and publishing, library science, multicultural studies, science, social science, and technology.

Canada Info Desk

  • Canada Info Desk provides users with access to 6 directories with over 100,000 Canadian organizations, contacts, facts and figures in one easy-to-use online resource.The directories include Associations Canada, Canadian Almanac & Directory, Canadian Environmental Directory, Financial Services Canada, Governments Canada, and Directory of Libraries in Canada.

Other Library Reference Resources

Guide to Call Numbers

Finding Call Numbers Video Tutorial (1:50 minutes)

Library of Congress call numbers are arranged alphabetically and numerically. Read call numbers from left to right and from top to bottom.

Letters in the first line of the call number are alphabetical:


Numbers in the first line of the call number are in numerical order:


Letters in the second line are alphabetical:


Numbers in the second line of the call number are in decimal order. It is important to remember that there is an invisible decimal point between the letter and the number:


There may be a third line of letters and numbers. These will also be in alphabetical and decimal number order.

The last line of the call number may be a year. This indicates the publication date.

Please note that Scholars Portal hosting of RefWorks will be discontinued August 15, 2015. Ryerson faculty, students and staff will no longer have access to their RefWorks accounts after this date. Ryerson University Library has created a list of citation management alternatives and is encouraging users to begin the process of exporting references from RefWorks into another software tool. Learn more about how to migrate your references and citations from RefWorks to Mendeley, Zotero or Endnote Web. You also have the option of purchasing an individual subscription to RefWorks.

RefWorks Help

Is your question a frequently asked questions? View FAQ. If you need help with using RefWorks, please contact the reference desk, your subject librarian or email refworks.support@scholarsportal.info.

Boolean Searching

Introduction to Boolean "operators"

When searching a database, first think of keywords that best describe your topic. Then combine these keywords using Boolean "operators" to broaden or narrow your search.

The Boolean operators are:




They determine how the computer searches for your keywords, and what information is returned to you.


The "and" operator tells the computer to search the database for every entry or record that has each of the words somewhere in the same entry or record. For example, if you want information on education in Ontario, you might search the appropriate source in this way:

Ontario and education

Venn Diagram of a boolean AND search

As illustrated in the above diagram, the computer goes through its database and first retrieves every record it finds with the word Ontario and every record with the word education. It then combines the searches, and gives you only the records in which both words appear somewhere in the same record. This is a way of narrowing a search and making it very specific.


The "or" operator tells the computer to search the database for every record which has any of the words specified. Both words do not have to occur in the same record. For example, if you want information on either stress or anxiety, you might search the appropriate source in this way:

stress or anxiety

Venn Diagram of a Boolean OR search

As the above diagram illustrates, the computer then goes through the database and retrieves every record with stress, and every record with anxiety. This results in a very broad search.


The "not" operator allows you to remove a word from your search. It tells the computer to search for every record with your first word, and remove any record which also contains your second word. For example, if you wanted information about sleep, but not sleep apnea, you might search the appropriate source in this way:

sleep not apnea

Venn Diagram of a Boolean NOT Search

As the above diagram illustrates, the computer goes through the database and retrieves every record with the word sleep. It then removes any of these records which also contains the word apnea, and gives you only those records with sleep, not sleep apnea. The not connector thus narrows your search.


It is sometimes useful to specify that words appear close together. In a sense, this is a more restricted version of the Boolean operator "and". It is particularly useful when searching a full text database, since if you searched fulltext using "and", your first keyword might be on page 1 of an article and your second keyword on page 20, resulting in a search result which is not relevant to your topic. Proximity operators vary in name, function and execution.

Phrase searching :

This is the most restrictive type of proximity operator. You specify that the keywords will appear beside each other in the specific order. For example, employment equity. Depending on the database, the phrase may have to be enclosed in parentheses.


The abbreviation ADJ is often used to denote that words must appear side by side, but in no particular order.

Within, near, W/x :

These specify that the words must appear within no more than x number of words. Depending on the database, the user may be able to specify the number of words, or the search interface may set a default number.

Truncation / wildcard symbols:

Truncation or wildcard symbols allow you to search for a root word and all of its various endings, or variant spellings. The symbols vary in depending on the database, but are usually *, ?, or ! Truncation symbols are usually used at the end of words, but in some databases can be used within words. For example, design* would retrieve all words with the root design and any other endings, such as designs, designing, designed, designers, etc., wom?n would retrieve all records with women or woman.

Boolean Search Strategy

Planning a Search

  1. Identify the concepts in your search.
  2. Think of synonyms and alternative ways of expressing each concept.
  3. Arrange synonyms for the same concept in a group.
  4. Connect your synonyms with "or"s, and place in parentheses.
  5. Connect your concepts (or groups of synonyms) with "and"s, "not"s or proximity operators.

For example, if you are looking for information on liquor laws in Ontario and Quebec, you might search as follows:

(alcohol* or liquor or spirits) and (law* or legislation or licens*) and (ontario or quebec)

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