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Anthropology: Search Tips

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Search tips

In appointments with students I am often shown an assignment question and asked to help search for related literature. Below are some methods and tips for choosing and combining keywords to use in Library Search, the library's subscribed databases, or Google Scholar.

For a more detailed look at advanced search strategies try our Academic Skills Online tutorial or if you need help with searching a specific topic you can book an appointment with me or another Subject Librarian to discuss it.

Choosing Keywords

We can use our set essay questions as a starting point, or if you have your own question you can use that too. If you have lots of ideas it's a good exercise to try and write your research question in one or two sentences.

Next, we pick out the key concepts, theories, places or names. These are generally nouns. See the example here:

How does ethnography help us understand processes through which social justice movements emerge and sustain themselves on the internet?

So as a starting point we might search for ethnography "social justice" internet in Library Search.

Note that we put the term social justice inside speech marks to search for that exact phrase, rather than the two words separately. For more tips like this see the below section on Combining Keywords.

Synonyms and Related Terms

It can be useful to consider synonyms or related terms as alternative keywords in our search strategies. Let's look at out example search again:

Keyword Synonym or related term
ethnography social anthropology
"social justice"  activism
"social movement"
internet "social networks"
"social media"

Pro tip: ProQuest databases have a list of subject-specific thesauri. EBSCO databases also have thesauri which can be accessed via the 'Subjects' link in the top toolbar.

Combining Keywords

Now that we have our keywords, synonyms and related terms we can look at how to combine them. The advanced search options in Library Search give us a form to combine our keywords using AND OR NOT, alternatively we can use the tips from the table below to write our search in a single line:

(ethnography OR "social anthropology") AND ("social justice" OR activis* OR protest OR "social movement") AND (internet OR "social media" OR "social networks")

The below table lists some useful 'operators' for combining search terms, how to use them and whether they work in Library Search or on Google.

Operator Description Works in Library Search? Works in Google? Tips
“Quotation marks”

Searches for an exact phrase

example: “nation branding”

Use quotation marks on a single word in Google to exclude synonyms
~ Tilde

Searches your term and synonyms

example: ~vegetarian AND "climate change" will also include results about the related term veganism

Be mindful that Google’s synonyms are generated by an algorithm. See also OR
* Wildcard Searches for part of a word, e.g. postcolon* finds postcolonial, postcolonialism In Library Search you can also use ? as a wildcard.
AND Narrows results to find resources that use both  terms, e.g. populism AND politics  
OR Expand results to find resources that contain either  terms, e.g. sexism OR misogyny In Google you can also use | , e.g. sexism|misogyny
NOT Excludes a specific term, e.g. metaverse NOT facebook will hide resources mentioning facebook. In Google use a minus instead, e.g. metaverse -facebook
() Parentheses Groups multiple terms or operators, e.g. (metaverse NOT facebook) AND (second life) Using advanced search forms can be easier than multiple parentheses
AROUND(x) Finds terms in within a certain amount of words from each other, e.g. Britain AROUND(8) reparations Many databases use NEAR/x for this function, e.g. Britain NEAR/8 reparations



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