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Research Guides

ANT317: Archaeology of Eastern North America

Crafting Your Search in a Library Database

Follow the five steps below to plan your search. It's important to consider your search terms and how they will be combined before you start using a library database. This will ensure your search retrieves enough relevant articles for your assignment. 

Step 1: Identify key concepts

Good searching starts with strong keywords

Underline key nouns from your research topic or question. These are usually people or populations, places, time periods, and ideas or issues.

Example: How did the Mississippian culture use trade networks?

Step 2: Identify search terms for each key concept

Brainstorm alternatives (synonyms, different spellings, or related terms) for your key concepts.

Concept 1: Mississippian Culture

  • Cahokia

  • Etowah

Concept 2: trade

  • networks

  • exchange

  • commerce

Step 3: Combine your search terms

In order to get more focused results, use Boolean operators (and, or) as well as the wildcard* to combine key concepts.

Example: ("Mississippian culture" OR Cahokia OR Etowah) AND (trade OR networks OR exchange OR commerce)

library database search example
Step 4: Use filters/limiters if necessary (available in a library database)

The following are some limits or filters you may want to apply to your search:

  • Scholarly / peer-reviewed
  • Publication type (e.g. newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal)
  • Publication date
  • Language
Step 5: Review your search results and change your search strategy

Searching is trial and error. If you don't like your results, change your keywords.

Too few articles? Try...

  • Consider adding related terms to your search, which may have a broader or narrower meaning
  • Check for alternate spellings
  • Search for the plural versions of your concepts
  • Capture variant forms of each concept (e.g. as a noun vs. a verb)

Too many articles? Try...

  • Limiting the search to a specific population, group, or phenomena
  • Looking at your topic in a specific location or region
  • Focusing on a particular idea or theme that's present in some of the articles you're finding


*Adapted from Kathryn Barrett's ANTA01 Library Research Guide

Accessing the Full-Text of an Article

To read the articles or access the full-text PDFs of resources in your results list, look for a full-text or download link in the database. For example, in Anthropology Plus, click on HTML Full Text or Linked Full Text. 

If that isn't available for an article you're interested in, click on the Get it! UTL button - this will check for full-text access to the article in all of the databases and collections that the U of T Libraries is a subscriber. If we have access to the article, you'll be directed to it automatically. 

database of example of an article record

Tips for searching bibliographic vs. full-text databases

When searching library databases it helps to understand what it contains and how searching works. Are you searching the full text? Are you only searching the bibliographic information? The answer to this question will determine your search strategies.

If you are searching a bibliographic database like Anthropology Plus:

Some library databases (e.g. Anthropology Plus) provide bibliographic information (i.e. article title, journal title, author/s, and publication information) and subject terms. If searching a bibliographic database like Anthropology Plus, note that you are not searching the full text.

  • Tip 1: It's better to use fewer main concepts (keywords) and include related terms with the boolean operator OR to expand your search results. If you are too specific, it won't retrieve many results.
  • Tip 2: Another strategy is to pay attention to the subject terms and employ them in your keyword searching. Subject terms are assigned to articles by people who work with a defined list of terms (thesaurus), including related, broader, and narrower terms. For example, "Mississippian Culture" and "Cahokia".
If you are searching a full-text database like JSTOR:

Some databases (e.g., JSTOR, AnthroSource) allow for full-text searching, but this option includes results where a search term appears only once in dozens or more pages. 

  • Tip 1: Searching fields such as title, abstracts, and subject terms will often give more relevant items than full-text searching.