Getting Started in Research

by Lindsay Mamchur, 6 August 2019
"built environment"
"photography AND built environment"
"built environment OR architecture"
"photography AND
(built environment OR architecture)"
This entry will give insight into my and my research partner’s methods of researching. It will list the types of databases we use to find sources and the tools we use to narrow the scope of our searches. A definition of a critical review will be given as well as some strategies for writing one. It is the goal of this entry to provide a simplified and approachable introductory guide to reading and writing critically and to researching in the intersected subjects of art, photography and architecture. This guide is based from our own experience as student researchers and several online guides we have found to be helpful.
Most often, we use the University of Manitoba’s Libraries general search to find sources, found here:
For art-, photography-, and architecture-specific results, we are most successful using these databases:
  • Academic Search Complete
  • Art Full Text
  • ARTbibliographies Modern
  • Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals
  • Érudit Journals (for Canadian or Québécois publications)
  • Google Scholar
All of these databases were originally suggested to us by Kenlyn Collins, the Architecture Librarian in our faculty. They are accessible to University of Manitoba students. From the library’s general search page as linked above, click the ‘Databases A – Z’ button under the search field, then enter the database name into the ‘Search for Databases’ field on the righthand side of the page.
To conduct a search, we employ common searching shortcuts. A simple and effective shortcut is to put quotation marks around names or other terms that should appear in results in that exact form: “built environment”. This will prevent search results from finding sources that contain only “built” or “environment”.
Another helpful searching strategy is to use AND when looking for results that link two ideas: “photography AND built environment”. Only sources with both “photography” and “built environment” will be found.
In a similar manner, you can use OR when searching with two related or synonymous ideas: “built environment OR architecture”. This type of search will find sources that contain either “built environment” or “architecture”.
Finally, you can combine these shortcuts to narrow your search even more greatly. It is important to remember to ‘nest’ these types of searches with parentheses. For instance, you could search “photography AND (built environment OR architecture)”. The parentheses separate “photography” from the OR statement ensuring that all search results with contain “photography” and either “built environment” or “architecture”.
A critical review is an examination of a book, article or other medium.[1] While it provides a summary of the publication, that is not its only function. It also analyses, interprets and evaluates the content in order to build a value assessment of the publication.[2]
  • It is helpful to read through the publication quickly at least once before doing a thorough reading. You may more easily identify the structure and methodology of the source’s argument in an initial skim reading.
  • After the quick reading, read the text critically. Take notes on the structure, the author’s main arguments, and the methods of discussion.
  • Points to consider in reading and writing:
    • Who is the author? What are their qualifications?
    • What is the purpose of the text?
      • Who is the intended reader?
      • In what tone is the text written?
    • What are the text’s central arguments or conclusions?
    • What are the methods of discussion?
      • How is the information organised? What does each section discuss?
      • What does the structure contribute to the arguments or conclusions? Does the organisation of the information aid comprehension? Does the text flow? Or does the structure inhibit flow and comprehension?
    • How are the arguments or conclusions related and/or valuable to the research focus?
  • Keeping to a consistent writing format is helpful. For instance, have one section to introduce the author, their purpose for writing the text and its general structure. Have another section to describe and examine the arguments and conclusions the author makes and their methods of discussing them. The bulk of the analysis will be in this section. Ensure to support your statements of analysis with examples or evidence from the reviewed source. Lastly, have a section to reiterate the main idea of the text and to conclude with a reflection on its value.
  • Write in a formal academic tone.
  • Place a word limit on your writing. We limited our reviews to 300 words. A word limit will force you to be concise.
  • Avoid using direct quotes. The review should use fewer and more succinct words than the reviewed source.
  • Check spelling and review your writing with a fresh mind after completing it. Consider having a peer or mentor review it.
More about searching shortcuts:
Other guides to writing a critical review: and
[1] ‘Introduction to Research: Writing Critical Reviews,’ Queen’s University Library, last modified 17 July 2019,
[2] Queen’s University Library, ‘Writing Critical Reviews.’
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