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ANTH 196A: Honors Thesis Research : Beginning Your Research and Search Strategies

Beginning Your Research

This tab has several goals: to 1) outline a series of steps to follow in conducting your research and developing your paper, 2)  to help you better navigate this guide and 3) to highlight some particularly good beginning resources for Anthropology Research.

1. A helpful beginning step to identifying and developing your main topic is to figure out what your basic question/s is/are

2. Next, consider the various disciplines and concepts that need to be addressed to answer this/these question(s).  Think about other terms that describe these concepts, including synonyms, variant spellings, broader or narrower terms.  Think also about the kinds of sources you will need to consult to answer these questions.

3.Talk to experts who can suggest beginning sources to you: your professors and anyone else that they recommend.

4. Look for background information on your topicReference Sources such as Reviews of Current Research and Encyclopedias are great places to start. Reading Book Reviews is another reference strategy that can help you find relevant sources.  

Once you are ready to search, it is very important to remember the following: A keyword search in any electronic resource (a library catalog, a digital library, a database, the internet, etc.) will point you to great initial resources, but you will not find all of the resources you need this way.  Thus,   it is therefore really important that you follow up on your initial searching by:

  • Looking at the complete records to identify subject headings or descriptors that you can use to search further
  • Carrying out seed research: go to the initial sources and check the footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies to find further resources.  It is also helpful to walk around the shelves in the library where you find initial print sources, as other related sources will be shelved in this area.
  • Use reference sources to start your research as well.  There are great electronic and print reference tools (dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and more) that can help you clarify and narrow down your topic and identify great starting resources.

See the box below for Key Search Strategies

5. Search for specific information (including Books, Dissertations & Theses, Articles, and Films and Images):

  • For places to search for books, click on the "Books and eBooks" tab.  There is also a tab dedicated to Theses and Dissertations.  Even though these are unpublished book-length works, they are often important sources of original information and their bibliographies can lead you to other sources.
  • Reviewing major Journals (Online) in the discipline(s) pertaining to your research topic and searching databases for Journal Articles are more useful techniques to find relevant sources.
  •  The Films and Images Tab lists resources and methods to identify and access relevant films and images for your research. 

5. The Assistance with Writing, Citing, and Managing Citations tabs point to various tools to help you with writing and keeping track of the sources you use.  These include a link to the Teaching & Learning Commons website and the How to Cite Research Guide, which provides help with Citing Your sources properly in various citation styles and using Citation Management Systems.  The drop-down tab Annotated Bibliographies and Literature Reviews helps explain what these are and how to write them.   


Great Starting Points for Anthropology Research

A few Key Databases focused on Anthropology, Science, and Medicine may be helpful starting points -- but there are also many, many more resources that can be found on the Journal Articles tab on this Research Guide or by exploring other Research Guides by looking at list of Research Guides by Subject:

Indexing database for anthropology, archaeology & related topics. Indexes articles in 2500+ scholarly journals, 1870 to present. Combines databases: Anthropological Literature (Harvard/Tozzer) and Anthropological Index (Royal Anthropological Institute)

Covers over 5,700 journals in the biomedical and health sciences and years covered late 1940's - present, with additional older medical literature selectively added. Search using keywords or the controlled vocabulary called MeSH. PubMed will automatically match your keyword terms to MeSH terms. For additional tips, see the Library's PubMed page.

Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology is an unique resource - something between an annotated bibliography and a scholarly encyclopedia. This resource guides researchers and students to the best available scholarship across a variety of topics.

Indexes over 18,000 journals in all subjects (coverage back to 1900 for science and social science journals), as well as 80,000 books and more than 180K conference proceedings. Includes the popular "cited reference search" to identify papers which have cited a previously published work or author. Can also sort by "times cited" and find related articles based on commonly cited works.

Sage Research Methods is an additional resource that may be very useful in developing your thesis.  There are various ways to search for useful material and models for research and writing.

1) One option is to put keywords into the search box at the top

- the default order of the results will be by relevance; you can change this to title or publication date by using the drop down options from the Sort by: box

- you can also narrow your results using the faceting menu on the right: choose a particular format or kind of resource (books, reference materials, journal articles, datasets, case studies, video, etc.)

2) A second path is to choose one of the options below the search box (such as: find quick answers and definitions (reference); learn about quantitative methods; design a research project; learn from stories of real research)

- you can browse through the results, using the faceting menu on the right to narrow down further by method, discipline, or your level of education/research (undergraduate … etc.)


3) Another way to see search options is to click on the "Browse" link above the search box, which allows you to narrow by subject discipline, topic, or content type 


4) Sage Research Methods also includes a project planner, which provides you with a guide to the stages of carrying out a research project (finding topic, reviewing the literature (previously conducted research in this area), developing a researchable question, finding and gathering resources or data, writing, etc.)

Keyword Search Strategies and Tools

Try one or two of the following strategies in the database you want to use.  Not all of them are available in every database. Different strategies will change your results and help you target the articles you need.

  Boolean Operators   

Truncation is a search technique that broadens your search to include various word endings. To truncate your search terms, replace the word ending with an asterik *.

infographic that shows the truncated politic* will return results for politics, politician, and political


Limits provide database-specific recommendations for narrowing a search. Applying limits will filter out results that don’t meet your search requirements. This will save you time because you won’t need to look through pages of search results that don’t include the information that you need Each database offers different limits. Be sure to check them out to see how they can help you with your search.

For example: In the database, Historical Abstracts, you can filter your search results for peer review, publication date, document type, language, subject, etc.

The image below illustrates how applying limits will help you to narrow
your search results.

nested circles that show how applying limits will reduce the number of results. The largest circle shows 8,747 results of a search on the Enlightenment. A smaller circle within that shows 256 results for a search on the Enlightenment and the Catholic Church. The smallest inner circle shows that search limited to peer reviewed articles, with 230 results


It's important to know that databases use subject headings to organize their articles. When you know the right subject headings for your topic, you can search more efficiently. Starting out on a new topic, you won't know the subject terminology. A simple way to find them is to start with a keyword search. When you find an article title that meets your needs, look for the subject headings assigned to that article. In most cases, those subject headings are hyperlinked and will take you to a list of articles with the same subject heading.

screenshot of an article page with an arrow pointing to the Subject Terms. You'll find a list of subject headings or subject terms in each record. The subject headings, or subject terms, are hyperlinked and will send you to a list of records with that subject heading

screenshot of an article's abstract with several keywords highlighted. The abstract is a brief summary of the article that can help you determine is you want to read the full text. Use the abstract to help modify your search by skimming it for additional keywords

Scholarly articles often have extensive bibliographies, also called reference lists or works cited pages. Bibliographies include references to articles, books, and other relevant literature that were published before the article. Some databases provide links to the cited references so that you can look at those articles as well, which might provide more articles for you to use in your paper.

Cited References can help you find articles that are older than the one you are reading.

An Examplle:

infographic of a 2003 article, articles in its bibliography from 1998, 2000, and 2002, plus Times Cited articles from 2006, 2009, and 2011 that have the 2003 article in their bibliography

Look at the example to the left. If you found a relevant article from 2003, you could look at the articles in the bibliography to see where your article got the information used to support their main points. These older articles can also be useful to your research, especially if you need to write a literature review.

You can use a similar method to find newer articles, by looking at the articles who have cited your 2003 article in their bibliographies. To find out more about this method, see the tab for Times Cited references.



Some databases, like Web of Science, include times cited references. Think of these as the opposite of a bibliography. Where bibliographies include references that are older than the article, times cited references are newer than the article.

Times Cited references can help you find articles that are more recent than the one you are reading.

An Examplle:

infographic of a 2003 article, articles in its bibliography from 1998, 2000, and 2002, plus Times Cited articles from 2006, 2009, and 2011 that have the 2003 article in their bibliography

Look at the example to the left. Let’s say your professor doesn’t let you include references in your paper that are older than 2005. You are finding articles about your topic, but they are all too old. Even the best article about your topic was published in 2003.

Using times cited references, you could see which articles have cited the 2003 article. Chances are you will find one published a more recently that you could use for your paper.



When you find an article that you think will be a good to use, you can take advantage of “related articles” to find similar articles. Databases have different formulas for determining how an article is “related,” but it usually is a combination of same keywords and descriptors.

You can usually find a list of related articles on the results screen of the database.

infographic of a great article connected to related articles