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VIST 399: Capstone for Visual Studies Minors

Visual Studies 399: Capstone for Visual Studies Minors (Schoneveld) Fall 2019

Creating a Search Strategy

Before conducting your search:
  • Consider how your argument might be broken down into keywords or phrases.
  • Compile a list of synonyms for those keywords.  What other terms might scholars use to talk about your topic, and how do these terms reflect the type of argument scholars are making?  (E.g., propaganda vs. advertising)  If you are a little confused about the language typically used in an area, check out the Oxford Art Online. If you search for "Japan" for instance, here is what you get.
  • Consider which intersections among your keywords will be useful for searching.
  • Identify disciplines that are relevant to your research question.  Also consider the ways in which your question might reside outside traditional disciplines or cut across them.
What to look for in your results:
  • Articles that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals or essay collections.  These articles will have been vetted by scholars with knowledge of the topic.
  • While an article's date of publication is no direct measure of its value, you should make sure that an older article's argument has not been superseded by new research or methodologies before relying on it alone.  Recent articles are also useful for their bibliographies, which have up-to-date resources on the same topic. 

Tips for Searching

Keywords allow you to construct a search that reflects multiple issues in your research question. Building sets of related concepts and looking for their overlaps gives you more relevant and precise results.  This approach is called Boolean searching using the operators AND, OR, NOT.

For example, a search for japan*  AND modernis*  will return items that contain both of the root words and their variations:

painting* OR print*  returns items that contain either one of the terms or both:

visual NOT art returns items that discuss the visual but do not mention art:

Phrase searching:

Enclose phrases in quotations marks.  This is an important strategy for getting exact results when searching phrases (e.g., "visual culture"") or conducting known-item searches for titles.

Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.

For example, one could search for politic*  to find poltic, politics, political, politicians, and so on.

Wildcard searches are for differences within words: a search for wom?n will return results for woman, women, and womyn.


Nested Searching:

When pairing two or more keywords with another keyword, it is important to "nest" the former terms within a larger Boolean search.

For example,  ("motion picture*" OR film*) AND (japan*) AND (art)  will return results for the union of the three subject areas.