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Topic: How to do Anthropological Research — How to Pick a Topic

This guide will help students from Sciences, Humanities, Health, Pharmacy and Business majors taking W course in Anthropology how to develop anthropological research topics and keywords to find articles from anthropological journals.

Picking a Topic and Search Terms

Image Info: example of a Concept (or Mind) Map on the broad topic nervous system. Each branch refers to a possible narrow topic to focus your research.

Developing a topic in a research area that you are not familiar with is a challenge. But, what you need to remember is that no matter what major you are studying, ultimately, all human activity has an impact on other human beings. A good place to start to pick a topic is to try to think how your field of study have an impact (positive or negative) on humans (indigenous people, minority groups, etc.)


The key to successfully picking a topic is to select one that is not too broad (with 10,000 results) but also not too narrow (with little or no results). If you are trying to pick a topic on a subject you are not familiar with, here are some steps to follow:

  1. Read the assignment and make sure you understand what it is asking you, If you are not sure, ask your professor to clarify the assignment for you
  2. Do some background research on the topic you are interested with (Check the Finding Background Information Page in this guide)
  3. Read through your syllabus and textbooks to get inspiration for topics
  4. Identify key concepts and keywords while doing background research that you can use later to search for articles on your topic.
  5. Write a research question that captures the main concepts you want to research.
    • Don't be afraid to re-write or change your research question after learning more about your topic.
  6. Don't limit yourself to search only anthropological databases. Anthropology is a multi and cross-disciplinary field, so make sure to check other subject specific databases to find other useful sources in your topic.

Concept Mapping

To help you develop your topic and narrow it down, check out this video on how to use concept maps to develop a topic. Concept mapping (also known as Mind Mapping) is a way to visualize a topic possible dimensions. It can help you narrow down a very broad topic. After watching the video, check the next tab titled "Concept Mapping for Anthropology" to see an example on how to use this tool to develop a anthropological topic.


This video takes an educational topic and explores different ways that this topic can be studied through different disciplines.

How to make any topic anthropological using a Concept Map:

  • After creating your concept map (watch the video), select the area where you want to focus, identify the keywords that best describe your topic and go search in any of our anthropological databases, e.g. AnthroSource, Anthropology Plus, etc.
    • If you are studying a specific ethnic group and/or region/country, you can add those keywords to your search too, e.g. Maasai AND Smartphones AND Communication AND anthropology
      (you can use synonyms and different phrases to best capture your topic and find more relevant articles.
  • If using Google Scholar, type your keywords and add any of these terms: anthropology, anthropological, ethnographical, ethnography, to make sure that your result lists bring up more anthropological articles to the top.
  • If using Multidisciplinary Databases, use the same strategy than search Google Scholar to find anthropological articles. In addition, certain databases allow you to limit your search to only anthropological journals, so take advantage of that feature when searching.


After creating your Concept Map check out the "Where to Find Anthro Article" Page for more tips on how to use the keywords you develop to find articles using databases and search engines such as Google Scholar. 

Create your own Concept Map!!

Remember, the purpose of this tool is not to research all possible topics but to pick one after you have identify all the dimensions of your topic.