Pick a research topic:
- Read your assignment instructions carefully.
- 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 a dictionary or encyclopedia to find definitions and explanations of 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.
Develop a search strategy to help you find books and journal articles:
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').
Find books and journal articles using OMNI
When searching, consider the following:
Once you have your results:
- To see only BOOKS click on Book
- To see only JOURNAL ARTICLES click on Articles and click on Peer-Reviewed Journals.
Because there will be many results, it is important to narrow your search.
- Resource Type
- Publication Date
The best place to start looking for journal articles is in one of our many specialized databases. Start with the following:
Worldwide Political Science Abstracts - Provides citations, abstracts, and indexing of literature and its complementary fields, including international relations, law and public administration.
Columbia International Affairs Online - Includes the full text of working papers and briefs, journal articles, books, foundation-funded research projects, and proceedings from conferences.
Sociological Abstracts - Topics include: sociology and social planning and policy.
Literary Sources - Provides access to literary information and analysis on various authors.
Aluka - Contains scholarly resources from and about Africa. A not-for-profit international collaboration of educational and cultural institutions.
TIP: Click on "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" box if the option appears. This way you will only see those articles are that appropriate for your research.
For additional resources see list of recommended databases on the African Studies subject guide, which includes:
The Modern Language Association (MLA) citation style is used in the humanities.
MLA uses parenthetical in-text citations which refer the reader to a reference list of works cited at the end of a research paper. Both in-text citations and a reference list are required for proper MLA citations.
Use the print MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers and MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. If you do not know how to cite a particular item or you are citing an item not found in this guide, consult the handbook or manual at the Research Help Desk. Use the MLA Tipsheet.
Additional information available via Citing Your Sources page.
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.