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SOAN 098: Thesis Writers Master Class (SC)

Sociology & Anthropology 098: Thesis Writers Master Class (Willie-LeBreton) Fall 2017

Generating a list of search terms

Before starting to search for sources, ask yourself the following questions. Keep a list of possible search terms.

• What are synonyms for my topic?    

• Do scholars refer to my topic using particular language? How do they talk about it?  (Try looking at things you've read)    

• Do the terms referring to my topic change depending on the political or social beliefs of the speaker?  (e.g. "pro-choice," "anti-choice," "pro-life")    

• Consider preferred and non-preferred terms, including (maybe) terms that were used in the past    

• Find a relevant book in Tripod. Check the subjects listed. (link to an example in Tripod

Strategies to Improve Searches

Find information more effectively and efficiently by using these strategies.  All of these strategies work in Tripod, and most work in search engines and databases as well.

Phrase searching:

Use this strategy when researching concepts that are phrases (e.g. prison reform), or when searching for a specific book or article (i.e. where you already know the exact title - e.g. History of Sexuality).

  • For example, gender identity will search for the words gender AND identity
  • However, "gender identity" in quotation marks will search for only this exact phrase. This increases the chance that the books listed will discuss what you're interested in.  (Phrase searching is particularly helpful if you're getting a lot of results that aren't specific enough.)

  • Beyond Tripod: Phrase searching works in Google and most databases (e.g. AnthroSource, Sociological Abstracts, JSTOR, Proquest)

Synonym Searching:

Save time by searching for multiple synonyms at once.  This is sometimes called "nested searching" or "set searching."

  • For example, (physician OR doctor) AND (woman OR female) will return results that match at least one term from each set of parentheses.  So in this case, you'd get results that contain either (or both) physician or doctor, and that also contain either (or both) woman or female.
  • Try set searching in Tripod by using Tripod Advanced search.

  • Beyond Tripod: Many catalogs or databases will have an "advanced search" option, which provides multiple search bars to facilitate nested searching. 

Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.  Consider using wildcard searching when there are multiple spellings of a word (e.g. globalization and the British spelling globalisation).

  • For example, one could search for politic* to find poltic, politics, political, politicking, and so on. Or search for ethnograph* to find ethnography, ethnographic, ethnographies. (Google does this automatically.)
  • Wildcard searching works similarly: a search for wom?n will return results for women and woman.  (Note: this does not work in Google)

Putting it all together:
Try combining these search strategies to improve your search results.

Example:  (physician* OR doctor* OR healer*) AND (wom?n OR female)