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Anthropology How To

A guide for undergraduates undertaking an in-depth anthropological research project

Find Out What's Already Been Done

Begin your literature review as soon as possible. Ideally, you already started doing some research while refining and adjusting your topic idea.

What is a literature review?

A literature review provides an overview of the scholarly literature (e.g. books, articles, dissertations, proceedings) relevant to an area of research or theory. The review typically will include a summary of the major questions in a area and critical evaluations of work that has already been done. Literature reviews are also helpful for their comprehensive bibliographies. This webpage by the UC Santa Cruz Library does a good job of explaining lit reviews.

Literature reviews typically include these components:

  • An overview of the subject
  • Organization of relevant publications into subtopics, theoretical areas, or key debates
  • An analysis and discussion of how various works relate to one another the the relevant questions
  • A discussion of unresolved questions or future directions
  • Some will also include discussions of key data collection and analysis methodologies

The following two resources are great places to start when compiling a comprehensive bibliography. Also consult reference works, encyclopedias, and handbooks to identify relevant terminology.

Searching Comprehensively

Create a Search Strategy

  • Try different keywords and search terms using different databases and catalogs. Every database is different so some keywords and search terms work for one database but not for another.
  • Keep a record of which search terms worked and in which databases. This can keep you from repeating your steps.
  • Expand your search:
    • Include synonyms and plural/singular forms of keywords. Separate synonyms by OR. Separate the synonyms from the rest of the words by using parentheses.
    • Use truncation symbols (or wildcard symbols) to include variations of your search terms (e.g. scien$ will search for sciences, scientific, scientifically, etc.).
  • Narrow your search:
    • Combining different concepts/search terms with AND
    • Use the limit functions of the database. These are often located on the left side of the results page, or look in the database's Help menu to discover the limit functions it offers. Possibilities include limiting by date, language, type of article, etc.
  • Did you find an article you really like? Then, read the cited references (a.k.a. bibliography, end notes, footnotes) to find similar articles. This can bias your project by focusing on only one side of an issue so use caution with this method.
  • Ask for help. Ask a librarian for search tips. Also, use the help screens in the databases for instructions and tips.

Search Databases and Catalogs

The library catalog, discoverE, and these databases are good places to start for most anthropology projects:

  • JSTOR - Access to a wide variety of journal articles in the humanities, social sciences, and area studies.
  • Anthropology Plus - Covers journal articles, edited books, and essays in anthropology, archeology, and related interdisciplinary research.
  • Scopus or Web of Science - Two interdisciplinary databases that cover science, technology, medicine, social sciences, and arts and humanities.

For more options, such as area studies databases and other specialized resources or indexes, browse the Anthropology Research Guide or Databases @ Emory.

Ethnographies can be tricky  to find since they are not classified in a consistent way. See this page for advice on identifying and finding ethnographies. Emory also has a few specialized tools that can help you find find books and films.

Need help?

Contact the Anthropology Librarian for an appointment or see if the Anthropology Research Guide has what you need.

Know Your Sources

The Craft of Research by Booth includes helpful information on evaluating sources. See section 5.4 or p.76 in the 2016 edition.

Check peer review status: If the journal itself or the database you searched does not tell you if a journal is peer-reviewed (refereed), Ulrich's Periodicals Directory can help. Search for the journal title (NOT the article title). If the journal is peer-reviewed it will have the "referee" icon next to it.