Pick a research topic:
- Read your syllabus (assignment instructions).
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the assignment instructions.
- Narrow or broaden the scope of your topic so that it is "doable."
What's scope? Scope refers to the "people, places and things" or "who, what, when and where" that you are studying.
Identify key concepts:
- Use an online thesaurus.
- Use a dictionary or encyclopedia to find definitions and explanations of African Studies terms and concepts.
Do an initial search for academic sources:
Here is a Subject Guide to help you pick the right databases, search-engines and sources for your assignment.
Database searching is NOT like Google! Most do not support natural language searching. You have to be precise in the words that you select.
Developing a good search strategy is important
Answer the following questions:
- what is your assignment?
- what is the main topic?
- who has an interest in that topic?
- what other language might they be using to talk about that topic? do they spell it differently?
- when was it relevant? is it a new idea, or a long standing issue?
- what other factors play into your issue? geography, government, people, etc.
Once you've decided which terms are the most useful for your search, combine them in a boolean search.
Use keywords only, DO NOT search using a full sentence.
|For example: (writ* OR literature) AND Africa* AND "slave trade"|
- the brackets keep synonyms together
- the * will look for alternate endings
- AND/OR will modify a component to narrow or expand your results (the capitalization of AND/OR varies from database to database, it is better to get in the habit of capitalizing them)
- if you had a multi-word phrase, putting quotes around it will search specifically for that phrase, in that sequence, side by side such as "Human Rights".
Another way to look at this is:
Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form
- How is African slavery portrayed in African writing?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
- Africa, slavery, writing
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
- writing - literature
Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.
Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement
- Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
- Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
- Africa AND slavery AND writing
- Africa AND slavery AND (writing OR literature) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.
Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings
A wildcard is usually represented by a *. This is also called truncation.
- (writ* OR literature) AND Africa* AND slave*
Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching
Some databases search each word separately. To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.
- "human rights"
Step 7: Evaluate your results
If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:
To broaden your search (find more):
- Find synonym for each keyword.
- Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
- Use wildcards/truncation.
To narrow your search (find fewer):
- Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
- Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').
You have two choices to begin searching for journal articles:
1. Use the OMNI box to easily find journal articles or books on any essay topic.
To obtain high quality, academic literature, use the filters to refine your search by selecting the following options:
- scholarly & peer-review
- journal article content type
You can also limit your search to many other sources, such as: books, e-books, newspapers, magazines or trade publications, videos, dissertations or conference proceedings. While many sources are published in different formats and written for specific audiences, they do not all have solid authority as with the scholarly, peer reviewed literature.
2. You should also select other Databases by Subject. Click on African Studies to view a list.
Recommended databases for your assignments are:
- Worldwide Political Science Abstracts
- Communication and Mass Media Complete
- Literary Sources
- PAIS Index
- International Political Science Abstracts
- Africa Development Indicators
- Africa Knowledge Project
- Historical Abstracts
Why use journal articles?
- They are more up-to-date than most books.
- They are “peer reviewed” by other scholars in the field who check for academic integrity.
- Every article will contain cited references that appear as footnotes and/or bibliographies.
- Print journals cannot be signed out of the Library but many of them are now available in e-format.
Know the difference between Academic Journals vs. Popular Magazines and Newspapers since many databases will index all content types.
Yes, you can use Google or any other Internet search engine to locate resources... but how do you know when what you have found is authoritative and trustworthy?
You are responsible for ensuring the academic content of the documents that you use. Consider carefully how you will assess the information that you find. You may wish to find answers for these questions:
- Authority: Is the author or institution credible?
- Accuracy: Is it supported by documented and authoritative references? Is there a clearly stated methodology? Is it 'in line' with other work on the same topic
- Coverage: Have limitations been imposed and are these stated clearly?
- Objectivity: Can bias be detected?
- Date: Can't find the date? Rule of the thumb is to avoid such material
- Significance: Is it relevant? Would it enrich or have an impact on your research?
Restricting content to file type
- to do this type in your topic and then "filetype:pdf" or "filetype:doc"
Restricting content to site .org or .gov sites
- to do this type in your topic and then either "site:.org" OR "site:.gov" OR "site:.edu"
Restricting content to searching titles only
- to do this type search "intitle: "human rights""
To exclude words from your search
- to do this search use operator "-" (minus) eg. jaguar speed -car
Get one-on-one help with your research assignments or access one of our many subject guides. Contact Margaret McLeod for a one-on-one session.
You can also CHAT with a librarian if you need help after hours.
You may find the following writing resource helpful as well:
Other Writing Help
Writing Services is located on the 4th floor of the library and offers students instruction on developing an argument, structuring ideas, writing well, etc. and is part of the Centre for Student Academic Support.
You can meet with a writing consultant during their drop-in hours on the 4th floor of the library or book an online appointment.
Citing your sources
Referencing your sources is an important part of academic writing. Why?
- it lets you acknowledge the ideas or words of others if you use them in your work
- it helps you to avoid plagiarism
- it demonstrates that you are using the scholarly record and that you can provide authority for statements you make in your term paper
- it enables readers to find the source information
- you don't have to cite common knowledge
- The punishable perils of plagiarism (a Ted Ed video)
- Mr. Totten's class
- Understanding plagiarism
- What is plagiarism and how to avoid it