Research databases

Tips for bibliographic database searching

  • Not all results will be relevant
  • We will not have all the articles
  • Look beyond the first page of results because unlike Google the results are organised by date order
  • Different databases will give you different results so it is best to use more than one
  • Use the journal titles to help evaluate the relevance of an article
  • Check anthropology and history databases as well as 'archaeology' ones as archaeology is classified under different disciplines in different parts of the world. Art history databases may also be relevant depending on your topic.

Discipline journals

Journal articles are a good source of current information, research and debates from the field as they are often published by research and professional associations in archaeology.

Journals often have themed issues and browsing them will help you make serendipitous or unexpected discoveries.

These are just a few of the key Australian and Pacific journals that you may like to explore:

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Search strategies & techniques

When you identify your keywords and phrases try to think of alternative words/phrases.  For example, television or TV or broadcasting. Also consider spelling variations (American and British) e.g. organization or organisation, globalisation or globalization.

Use AND to combine keywords:  sustainability AND development will find all records containing these words anywhere

Use quotation marks for phrases:  “environmental sustainability” will find all records containing these words as a phrase

Use OR to find any of these words: planning OR development will find all records containing either of these words

Use NOT to exclude words: AIDS NOT aid* will find all records on AIDS excluding those that mention aid, aids or aides. 

A truncation symbol will finds alternate endings of words, e.g.

  • Austral* will find  Australia, Australian, Australiana

Use wildcards to compensate for different spellings e.g.

  • wom?n will retrieve women and woman

  • globali?ation will retrieve globalisation and globalization.

Keyword searching is often difficult, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The English language is rich in synonyms, and there are so many narrower or broader terms which might also be relevant. With chaining or snowball searching, you are searching with concrete search terms (i.e. the title and author of the cited reference).

First, start with a reference that is highly relevant to your research. Ask your supervisor for advice on this if you’re not sure.

You can gather, search, scan and aggregate related references either forwards or backwards in time from this key reference:

  • backward chaining: reach into the past to find citations before a particular relevant reference (i.e. in its bibliography/reference list) and add new links to your chain of information.

  • forward chaining: look up the reference in Scopus, Web of Science and/or Google Scholar to find articles that have cited it and bring your research from the past to the present.

To search databases effectively, you need to understand the concept of controlled vocabulary.

Many databases use a system of standardised subject terms (sometimes called descriptors or subject headings). Using these terms can help you find information you may otherwise have missed.

When you find a useful reference on a database, look at the full record for that reference to see if there are any descriptors or subject headings in the record. Searching by those terms may yield useful results.

These have been developed and assigned to articles by humans, which means it is a good way to search for concepts and to find similar articles about the same concept. This process takes time, so not every relevant article in a database will have them.