1. Select a topic that genuinely interests you. Look at course readings, class notes, Google, Wikipedia, CQ Researcher or Credo Reference for initial ideas.
2. Consider the scope of your topic.
If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information.
If it too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information.
3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. It should be a question that will have a concrete, specific and measurable answer that has not already been definitively answered (you want to contribute something new to the discussion!).
Questions to guide the development of your research question:
Knowing the right keywords to search will help you start your search off right. Often, when students aren't finding good information - or any information at all about a topic - it is because they aren't using the correct keywords.
The best thing you can do before ever getting into a database is to think about the keywords that will best represent your topic. Write down your thesis statement and pull out the major terms in it. Then, think of as many different ways as you can to say those key terms. For example:
if you were researching : The archaeological evidence of Native American burial rituals in the Pacific Northwest.
Some keywords in this sentence are: "Native American", ritual, burial, and "Pacific Northwest". However, searching for these terms will get you only a fraction of the material that is out there, because if a different keyword is used to express the same concept you need to search for that keyword as well. So, other keywords that would be useful to use when researching this thesis topic would be: "American Indian", Indigenous, rites, grave sites, "funerary customs". You could also refine your search, and your thesis, by searching for specific tribes or archaeological sites.
Setting a list of terms and then combining them in the databases will yeild you the best results.
* Remember that you can combine keywords using the search limiters AND, OR, NOT. These will narrow or expand your search.
* Use quotation marks around words that make a phrase. So, search for "Native American" rather than Natiev American or Native AND American in a database. This will ensure that the database knows that you want the phrase "Native American" and not every article with the word Native and the word American in it!
* Tailor your keywords to the database. Not all databases will pick up all keywords. Get your list of keywords and plug them into various databases to see whether or not they are useful for you in that database. If you go into a database with keywords and don't find anything, don't get discouraged. Take your words to a different database and see what you find there.
BUT. . .
* Remember in anthropological research that some databases, particularly those that search historical documents like newspapers and magazines, may use keywords that are outdated or distasteful to contemporary researchers. For example, searching for "African American" in some newspaper databases will not turn up much material, but searching for "Negro" will, simply because of the language that is used in the article.
* Remember also in anthropological research that spelling and word usage changes over time. A search for "Navajo" may miss articles that use the spelling "Navaho." Likewise, when searching for a term like "religion" consider using other words such as "cosmology", "ritual", "myth" -- these words may uncover some great material that you might miss by searching only for one term.
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The Mansfield Library provides a full suite of video tutorials to help you with topic selection, searching, citations, copyright and more.