African Studies Library Research Guide

Why Use A Research Guide?

This guide has been developed to save time and help produce a better research paper. It will guide you through the library research process and inform you of the best resources for your topic. If you need assistance at any time, please ask for help at a Reference Desk.

Getting Started

  1. Select Topic
  2. Identify Terminology
  3. Locate Background Information
  4. Focus the Topic and Form an Issue Question
  5. Organize Topic into Concepts

Finding Research Materials

  1. Finding Books Using the BYU Catalog
  2. Journal and Newspaper Articles
  3. Internet Resources
  4. Additional Resources
  5. Evaluate/Select/Cite Resources
  6. Prepare your Paper

[If you are not affiliated with the University, you may not have access to all the resources included here.]

Getting Started

1. Select Topic

Select a broad topic of interest to you. You will refine and narrow your topic as you go. The following lists will assist you in deciding on a beginning broad topic. These lists are available at the Reference Desks.

a. Library Research Guides - Broad subject categories, each with a step by step guide created for that subject.

b. Background Study Guides - Each guide includes a tailored four-page worksheet using the library-research strategy.

2. Identify Terminology

It is essential to use the proper and specific terms for your subject, especially as you search electronic resources. Begin a list of terminology which is used in the literature for your topic, adding to it as you go along. There are several good sources to look up terminology.

a.. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) (Located on all References Desks)
b. Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors (Level 1 Social Science Reference, or the ERIC database)

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3. Locate Background Information

Do a brief background search using general and specialized encyclopedias, and other reference sources to gain a basic understanding of your topic. Look for relevant terminology, how a subject is subdivided, and any useful bibliographies--names of important works/scholars in the field. Names that repeatedly appear in your articles are most likely authorities. Paying attention to their ideas will be very helpful. As you read, be alert to questions and issues being discussed and how you might begin to narrow your topic.

The following are some of the best sources for background information in Spanish and Portuguese language and literature.

Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara (4 vols. SocSci Ref DT351.E53 1997)

Encyclopedia of African Nations and Civilizations (SocSci Ref DT 14.E43 2002)

Encyclopedia of African History and Culture (3 vols. SocSci Ref DT3.P27 2001)

Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa (SocSci Ref DT2.E53 1997)

African Literature and Its Times (HumRef PL8010.M65 2000)

African Writers (HumRef PL 8010.A453 1997)

Other Specialized Sources will be located very near these. Check individual numbers for country sources. The Humanities Religion and the Social Science References Desk also have a helpful lists of reference resources.

4. Focus the Topic and Form an Issue Question

With background gleaned from the above reference sources, you should have an awareness of the various sub-divisions of your topic, and the issues of your topic that are being discussed and researched. You are now prepared to narrow the scope of your research and write an "issue question" which you can research.

For example: "What was the role of South Africa in the Mozambican Civil War between 1982-1992?"

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5. Organize Topic into Concepts

Since many research resources are computerized, prepare to do an electronic search by, first, underlining the main or key words in your issue question.

For example: "What was the role of South Africa in the Mozambican Civil War between 1982-1992?"

Using the following chart, place the keywords in separate concept boxes. Add additional synonymous terms from your terminology list within each concept box.

Concept 1
Concept 2
Concept 3
  South Africa


Southern Africa


How to phrase a "keyword" search

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Finding Research Materials

6. Finding Books Using the BYU Library Catalog.

To Perform a Basic Search

Enter the subject or author in the Search Box.

To Perform an Advanced Search

a. Enter your keyword search in the search box(es). You can:

b . Select keyword anywhere, author, title, periodical title, series title, subject or genre/form from the left pull-down box.

c . Select AND, OR, XOR , or NOT from the right pull-down box.

d. Click on Search Catalog to execute the search.

e . To limit your search, scroll down and select from the pull-down menus.

To Perform a Call No. Search

a. Type in the Call Number in the search box.

b. Limit your search, if desired, by library, location, shelving scheme.

c. Click on Browse Shelves to execute the search.

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7. Journal and Newspaper Articles

The researcher uses articles published in current periodicals (magazines/journals) to get the most current research. A variety of periodical indexes (databases) are available on the library's web site by selecting "Resources by Subject." Select Africa and then "Electronic Resources for Africa." Also look at disciplines such as anthropology or history.

If you have any questions, please check at the reference desk for assistance. The following periodical indexes are recommended for Spanish and Portuguese:

Historical Abstracts
Indexes and abstracts scholarly articles, books, and dissertations on the history of the world (excluding the U.S. and Canada) from 1450 to the present.

PAIS: Public Affairs Info
Indexes and abstracts information about public affairs, current events, elected officials, legislation, foreign affairs, political reporting from newspapers, journals, books, and government documents in a number of languages. Updated quarterly.

MLA Bibliography
Indexes books, book chapters, articles and conference reports on literature and languages in general. Coverage from 1963 to the present. Available on-line and in paper copy.

There are also two indexes listed under "Resources by Subject - General" which may be helpful. These two, "ProQuest" and "SearchBank" have the advantage of having many articles available in full text.

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8. Internet Resources

If Internet resources are needed/allowed, first use those recommended by the subject librarian under "Resources by Subject-Select Web Sources".

Africa Web Links: An Annotated Resource List
A list of on-line resources related to Africa.

African Journals Online
A list of websites for periodical titles from Africa that are available online. The periodicals are listed by subject and indicate the country of origin. The list is updated regularly.

Index on Africa
The index to over 1700 on-line links of Africa.

You may also wish to use one of the many Search engines listed under "Web Search" on the BYLINE menu. Go directly to the home page of Yahoo at or try the Google engine at

Remember to watch the screens for search "tips" or "helps" or "Advanced Search" buttons which will use many of the Boolean concepts discussed. Sometimes thousands of hits will be found, but remember to use caution, as most will not be reliable or scholarly. As you evaluate Internet resources, you may find clues in the URL (address) which can alert you to the type of agency responsible for that site thus helping you assess its more of an opinion or try to persuade the reader.

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9. Additional Resources

There may be additional resources which could be used in your research.

  1. Bibliographies: When you find good material, pay attention to the bibliographic references listed in that item.
  2. Interlibrary Loan: If our library does not have the title, youcan order it on-line by checking the appropiate box on the library homepage. It will average 10 days but could take 3 weeks. The cost to receive articles is $.10/page and books are sent free of charge.
  3. Librarian Assisted Research Service : If you still need additional materials, you may also wish to check with the subject librarian at this point who may recommend a fee-based remote database search.

10. Evaluate/Select/Cite Resources

Use the following criteria to evaluate your resources:

Reliability : Is the information scholarly and accurate? What clues are present to help you judge accuracy--footnotes, bibliography, credits, quotations?

Credibility : What are the author's qualifications? Is he/she affiliated with a university or other scholarly institute?

Perspective : Is the author objective, biased, or trying to sway the reader?

Timeliness : How recently was the information published?

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11. Prepare Your Paper

Cite resources using the writing style manual recommended by your instructor. The main style manuals can be found at the General Reference Desk, and brief versions of the guides can be found on the library's web page under e-reference listed as Style Guides.

You are now ready to write your paper.

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