Guide to Essay Writing and Research
The part of your Paper that should take you the longest to do is the research. Without proper research you cannot achieve good results, regardless of your ability to write well! Your reader will soon be able to tell that you have nothing of significance to say, that you know virtually nothing about the subject.
Given the importance of this phase of your Paper, start early before everybody has raided our Library (and that of McGill, Concordia, etc.) seeking the same material as you and before the pressure of writing other papers (or exams) becomes overwhelming. Nine weeks always seems to be a long time to write a paper, but you will soon realise that it descends on you in no time at all! A subject cannot be properly researched and analysed, then a paper written in one weekend. If you got away with this before, it is unlikely you will be successful with this method at College and University.
Your sources of information should be varied and specialized. A specialized source in one written by a professional historian who is an expert on your subject. The source has to be written specifically on your subject or, alternatively, on your period with an elaborate discussion of your issue. Consequently, this excludes encyclopaedias, general histories, newspaper articles and material not written by a specialist historian directed at the general public. These general sources may be used as general background before you start your research; they will give you an idea of the kind of information you will be seeking and help you formulate more precisely your research question and hypotheses.
If the subject lends itself to it, try to use at least one primary source. Such a source is an original document (often printed), written by a contemporary of the events you will be studying; the views of such an informant have not been distilled by the analysis of an historian. At the College level, you should start to formulate your answers without going solely through secondhand information.
Our Library is quite adequate for serious research in the fields of Canadian/Quebec histories provided you are serious in looking for good sources of information and you start early enough. Before you decide that there is nothing available, likely because you cannot find anything, consult with the Library staff who will be delighted to help you in your search. Alternatively, come to see me.
There has been an astounding revolution in the library field in the last ten years; a good deal of this has been the result of the introduction of a variety of new technologies and tools which libraries now put at the disposal of their users. It is not my purpose to describe these new tools as they evolve so rapidly that, no sooner would I describe them that they will be superseded!
When compiling your bibliography, consult with the Library staff to use the various indexes and databases that we have available on-line in the Library and that are accessible from home. We have on-line connections to McGill and Concordia libraries, access to the holdings of a vast network of other institutions, possibilities to download material from a variety of sources (including the Internet), etc.
Unfortunately, the material that can be reached through the new technology varies in quantity and quality according to the subject you are dealing with. The more international a subject, the more it will be of great help to you. In Canadian history, and especially in Quebec history, it is of a more limited use so that the more traditional methods of bibliographical research, more often than not, will have to be applied. The following few pages describe ways, means and processes that should be followed.
The easiest to find are good books. Our Catalogue is fully computerised and the system is easy to use. Yet, it is amazing how much more material some students can find using the same tools as their classmates. In large part that is because they know more about their subject than the others. The more you know about something, the more you increase your chances of finding material about it. So the first thing to do is to inform yourself about your subject (hence the use of encyclopaedias, general histories...) so that you can do a wider search in our Library catalogue.
When you have found a source that seems to be first rate, consult its bibliography and the table of contents; they will suggest other avenues to pursue your investigation. If there is no bibliography in your first rate source that is a good sign that it is not appropriate for you to use! When you have gathered a few books in this fashion, check to see if there have been book reviews made of them. Consult the Book Review Digest or Index. You may go directly to the Canadian Historical Review and/or to the Revue dhistoire de lAmérique française; both have indexes of their own and you will be able to ascertain rapidly how the book was received by the scholarly journals. As a rule, it takes one to two years for a book to be reviewed in Canada in the periodicals mentioned above.
Another good source of information on the quality of the author/book you have found is to check it out in the following:
Do not underestimate the usefulness of these periodicals. Authors often summarize their latest findings and views in a short article written in one of the many scholarly journals. If you do not use these periodicals, you cut yourself off from a major source of information, sometimes the only source of information that exists on your subject.
The Library has a large collection of scholarly journals that are of great use for Canada/Quebec subjects. Many of these are indexed in a variety of places (consult the Library staff on this) and some make indexes of their own periodically.
Most useful Canada/Quebec scholarly journals held in our Library:
The difficulty with scholarly journals is that the material is very scattered and relevant articles are sometimes difficult to find; after all, they are not listed in the Library catalogue. For the journals that are individually indexed, search directly in these indexes. The problem is that indexes are published only every ten years or so; thus you are usually missing the most current material. Furthermore, most of the journals are not individually indexed. For these periodicals follow this procedure:
I require that you find, and use, a substantial number of scholarly articles for your assigned bibliography and to write your Paper.
Get used to working with scholarly journals and with the tools necessary to reach them. This will prove to be useful to you already at this stage of your studies; they are likely to be essential to your success in the future. Never hesitate to ask the Library staff to help you in this task. They will be delighted to teach to you those skills that will prove to be so important to your future success.
If you are looking for statistical evidence of a historical nature, consult one or more of the following:
If you are looking for information of a biographical nature to get you started on a subject, or if you want fast information on a person whose name you have encountered in one of your readings, consult one or more of the following found in the Reference section of the Library:
The Library keeps a number of sources that can help you deal with current affairs (in history this is the last 20-30 years!). We keep the Montreal Gazette and Le Devoir. Indeed, in the case of Le Devoir, our collection is extensive and goes back to nearly the founding of the paper. For Quebec history, this is invaluable and many a research project can focus on this unique source of information. Databases, such as CBCA and Repères, should prove useful to find articles published in newspapers. Consult the reference librarian on this point.
The Library also holds a number of useful periodicals, some dating quite far back in time, which you will find of use when writing on a current issue. Magazines such as LActualité, Macleans, Saturday Night, Canadian Forum, Time, Relations will prove useful. All are indexed in the Canadian Periodical Index.
For Quebec history we have collections of Action française, and its successor Action nationale. These two periodicals were (and the latter still is) at the heart of the nationalist movement in Quebec.
The Library keeps a running subscription to Canadian Speeches as well. If it was said by somebody important in Canada, and the issue is of significance, it will be found in that source.
In Canadian history, the most interesting source of current information is the Canadian Annual Review. (Reference 971.06 C212 1901 to date) This was published annually between 1900 and 1940, and again since 1960. Every year, the editor reviews all of the major events of the past year. If it happened in Canada, it will be in this source. Become familiar with this work, it is essential to study contemporary Canada. A word of caution: the earlier volumes, edited by Castell Hopkins, were more folksy and lacked the detached, objective approach, that characterized the later volumes. The editor was Conservative, Imperialist and not very tolerant when it came to issues related to Quebec and French minorities. He detested Henri Bourassa who is now considered one of Canadas great nationalist forerunners and an early proponent of bilingualism and biculturalism. Use it with care.
Since 1987, Denis MONIERE has edited a Quebec version of the Canadian Annual Review. It is entitled LAnnée politique du Québec. It is an excellent source to follow the political, linguistic and economic situation of Quebec. Another great source of information, similar to having a newspaper summary of events, is the Canadian News Facts (Reference 317.1 C213) that is published annually since 1967. The great thing about it is that it is fully indexed. Thus, you can follow a specific issue from year to year, or the career of an important Canadian. Students of politics and current Canadian history have to become familiar with this source of information.
There are many types of government documents that can be of use to you. Among others are:
The Library is at the heart of our Academic institution. In part, your success depends on your becoming familiar with its services. The Library staff, along with your teachers, are there to initiate you into the world of knowledge. Never hesitate to rely on them. Respect the rules of the Library. Think twice before taking material illegally from the Library; you will hurt your classmates by doing this, and you risk being caught and having a black mark on your record at the College. Many of the books and journals that disappear are irreplaceable. Photocopying is very inexpensive. If you need material for longer that the usual rules would allow, discuss it with me. Remember that all of my books and periodicals are available to you; just come to see me in my office.
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College