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Anthropology: ATH 145H

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Searching the Literature

Searching the literature for articles and information related to your topic can be very time-consuming, but it's an important step in the research process. A good literature search will give you the background information you need to understand and interpret the data you were given for your assignment.

Use the steps below to help you brainstorm your search terms and combine them in meaningful and helpful ways.

Step 1: Identify major concepts

Take a look at the purpose and procedures for the topic you were given, and break it down into large concepts or ideas. For example, let's say I'm looking into sustainable agriculture (with archaeological context). I've broken it out into three concepts to illustrate the process, but you shouldn't feel limited to having just three main ideas. 

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3


agriculture archaeology

Step 2: Identify related terms

For each concept or idea, identify any synonyms or related terms. This is what you'll use as your keywords (combined with Boolean operators) when searching our databases.

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3









chinampa (Aztec)

framed / brassica paddy (China)

andenes (Inca & others)


You'll notice in the terms I've listed for Concept 3, they're not all synonyms for each other, but they are related. To best combine these terms, you may need to get a little creative with your operators. You can use parentheses in conjunction with Boolean operators to better limit your search. For example:

((framed OR brassica) AND paddy)

Remember the order of operation from algebra? The parentheticals here function the same basic way. This will search for all papers that mention framed AND paddy, or brassica AND paddy.

Using parentheticals properly with Boolean operators will save you a lot of time and frustration, but it can be a little strange to wrap your head around. Don't hesitate to reach out if you run into any trouble, or aren't sure if what you're doing is correct.

Step 3: Combine

Once you've got your concepts and terms laid out, it's time to start searching. Pick your database (JSTOR is highly recommended) and go! The related terms for each concept should go in one field, combined by OR, and your fields containing your concept terms should be combined by AND. Also keep in mind that you can use truncation to find all words with the same prefix, to save yourself some headaches. For example:

sustainable OR eco-friendly


agriculture OR farming OR hydroponics OR aquaponics


chinampa OR ((framed OR brassica) AND paddy) OR andenes

Keep in mind that the first list of keywords you create may not get you enough relevant material to be 100% useful to you. Literature searching has no one right answer; it make take you a several passes using different keywords in different combinations to find all the information you need. Don't give up! And don't hesitate to reach out to me if you need some guidance at any point in this process.

Your Librarian

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Abigail Morgan

Summer 2024 Research Assistance

I'm available via:
- In person @ King by appointment Mon, Tue, Thurs
- On Zoom by appointment Mon to Fri
- Email - expect a response within 1 business day

206 King Library