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ANTH 4710 Library Research Guide/Leigh/Fall22: Using Databases


The University Libraries have many, many databases. It can be confusing to select one.

It is often helpful to start your search with a more general database, such as Academic Search Premier, Google Scholar, or Web of Science (which is actually all topics, not just science.) These databases are very broad in scope and have articles on pretty much every topic. The more specific, discipline-related databases can also be helpful but are limited in that they generally have articles from a small number of subject-specific journals. Please see the recommended databases section of this guide for lists of possible databases. Always feel free to reach out to your librarian for help!

Search terms, also called keywords, are words you select to represent the main concepts of your research topic. Unlike Google and other natural-language based search engines, library databases do not respond to questions or search full sentences. Instead, you must enter specific search terms in database search boxes. These terms allow the database to find articles on your topic. Without the right keywords, you may have difficulty finding relevant articles

Selecting keywords is a multi-step process:

  • Look at news articles, websites, Wikipedia or any other source you come across ton learn a little about your topic
  • Identify the main concepts of your topic (these are your initial search terms)
  • Brainstorm synonyms that could also be used to describe your topic
  • Spell out abbreviations
  • Look in any academic articles or news articles you find on your topic to see what terms researchers use
  • Use terms from class/texts
  • Keep track of successful search terms to use in different databases

It is sometimes helpful to use punctuation in your database searches. Specific punctuation allows you to improve your searches. Here are a few specific suggestions:

  • Phrase Searching with quotation marks:
    • Quotation marks allow you to search a phrase: "media bias."
    • Without quotes, the database will find articles that have both "media" and "bias" in them, but not necessarily in that order. Such a search might have many irrelevant results.
  • Truncation:
    • putting a star (*) instead of a suffix/ending to a word allows searching of many forms of a word: child* (searches child, children, childish, childhood.) Race* (searches race, races, but may miss "acial.)
    • Watch out for things like soc* for society as too many words (society, socket, soccer) can lead to an unhelpful search.

Scholarly peer review (or "refereeing") is what makes an "academic" or "scholarly" article different from a popular article, such as articles you might read on a website or in a magazine and newspapers.

Academic articles go through a process called "peer review," which means that they are read and evaluated by several scholars who are experts on their specific topics. These "peer reviewers" evaluate a research paper or book for quality. Their opinions help the editors of an academic journal or scholarly publisher decide if the paper/book is good enough to publish. The reviewers also usually give specific recommendations on how the author can improve their work before it is published.

Essentially, peer review is meant to help provide quality control for highly specialized and scientific articles.