Academic Literacy: Social Sciences

Course #: BF290-BR

The Research Process

Identify a Research Question

Start your research with a question in mind which will help you identify the main concept(s) for your topic. From these concepts you can identify the best keywords to search for information.

If my broad topic is Sports Leadership and Gender, I will need to focus this by creating a researchable question. My first question that I created was "Does gender inequity affect leadership in sports organizations, and if so, why?". To fully research this topic and explore the different related aspects of my primary research question, it is a good idea to create related questions.

Using questions to identify different areas I need to research for my topic

What are the barriers to women taking on more senior leadership positions in sports organizations?

Are there gender differences in leadership styles and if so how are those differences significant?

What solutions could potentially be implemented to dismantle the barriers (i.e. policy changes or affirmative action initiatives)?

Creating Effective Search Strategies

Main concepts

These are the main ideas represented in your research question. For my example research question the main concepts are sports AND leadership AND gender.

For more information about identifying main concepts you might find the online tutorial Identifying Concepts Related to a Topic helpful.


Keywords are the words you think everyone else would use to find information if they were researching the same topic. For my research question, my starting keywords might be: sports AND leadership AND gender. This is just a starting point, other terms and combinations will reveal themselves as I do my research.

Using AND/OR to connect your keywords

To search effectively in Omni or databases you will need to connect your keywords using AND/OR.

AND is used to connect the keywords that capture the different concepts of your research question or topic. AND narrows your search: the more ANDs you have connecting your keywords the fewer records you will pull up in your search, because AND tells the catalogue or database that both keywords must appear in the record for it to be found.

Example: sports AND leadership

OR expands your search. The more ORs you have connecting your keywords the more records yo will pull up in your search. OR tells the search tool that either of your keywords can appear in the record for it to be found. You use OR to connect the keywords that represent the same concept.

Example: (sports OR athletics)

Building on previous searches and creating methodical research strategies

The keywords sports AND leadership AND gender are fine as a starting point for my research question, but once I find an item that looks good for my topic, I would want to check the terms used in either Omni or the database to identify the record. These terms are often called either "descriptors" or "subject headings". For my research topic a useful subject term from the database SPORTDiscus will be "coaches". I am more likely to pull up other useful items for my research topic, if I use this search term as well.

It is important to vary and change your keywords as you switch between the different search tools. Keywords that work well in Omni may not be as effective in the databases. If you keep using the same keywords over and over again you might be missing out on important sources that could help you write a better paper.

Search Tools to Find Books and Articles

Identifying the best search tool to start research

You can start your research in different ways. The best way to begin your search will depend on how much you already know about a topic and the type of information you need. If you are just getting started on a research topic it is often a good idea to start with books.


To find books on a topic you can search Omni, which is an academic search tool. Omni does search for other types of materials and so if you are just beginning your research it is a good idea to click on the books tab to limit your search.

Recommended tutorials for the  and ebooks

Finding Books in Omni

Requesting books from other libraries in Omni

Finding eBooks

A Selected List of Recommended Subject Guides to help you identify Social Sciences Databases

Communication Studies




Geography and Environmental Studies

Health Studies

Political Science