Skip to Main Content

MGCS 5001 - Understanding China, 1700-2000: A Data-Analytic Approach: Stategies & Techniques


These strategies are not "do it once in this order & be done". Instead, they are recommendations for approaches that are often done several times  at different points in your research .

  1. Start with what you have been given
    1. Ideas, information, data,  themes, methods of analysis from  lectures
    2. Ideas, information, data, themes, arguments, from readings
  2. Look for clues in your readings (syllabus)
    1. Main argument, findings  (in abstract? in conclusion?)
    2. Keywords, special terms?
    3. Important authors?
    4. References to other articles, books, statistics  in assigned readings (for your follow-up)  = Classic Scholarly Method
  3. Use References from things you  research & find  = The Classic Scholarly Method)
    1. When you do research, you will find things cited in papers & books you read. You can then look those up and read them (reference chain "backwards")
    2. See who else has cited the article you found useful after it was published (reference chain "forwards")
  4. Think about the arguments & evidence from the readings and lectures and other info
    1. See if/how they apply to your topic
    2. What questions do they give you?   Start to search for answers or evidence that might lead you to your answer, your theory, your argument.
  5. Search for more answers or evidence (or questions!)  in recommended search tool & sources
  6. Use smart-search techniques in those search tools

Questions to Ask as You Evaluate Search Results

Questions to Ask Yourself : Search and Evaluation are tightly tied together!


  • Do my terms or ideas related to my terms turn up in the title, abstract, or source title?

Date or Time

  • Does the publication date show it fits in my time period?
  • Does the publication date
  • Does the title indicate that the time period covered in the item relates to the time period I’m studying?

Amount of results

  • Am I getting too much (feeling overwhelmed?)
  • Am I getting too little (feeling like there’s nothing to build on)


  • What is it?  (video?  Article? Book?)
  • How long is it (7 page article? 30 page article, 300 page thesis?
  • Is it appropriately scholarly and reliable?
  • If not scholarly, is it from a reliable source?

Use Search fields to decrease or increase your results

Search one area/field (e.g. title)  to set limits on your search. This will help you.  

  • Sometimes your first search finds little. In library-land we call this "too narrow".
  • So you will want to modify the search and try to get more results. In library-land we say you want to "broaden" the search.
  • For example, go from searching the title only, to searching the full-text.

From the first search in a search engine that you do, be aware and critical of what you are finding. Think about what you are searching (title only? full-text? subject?). 

Search field Exampls in Proquest


Example: Search fields in Proquest

Search field





ab(“marriage portion”)




Publication title


pub(“late imperial china”)



au( susan mann)



yr (2008)




Citation Chaining - Web of Science - UNSW Canberra

Citation Chaining - GoogleScholar - Seattle U

Identify Concepts & Keywords

Identify Main Concepts and Keywords

The best way to search most databases is by keywords. You need to "translate" your research question into concepts and keywords to help the database understand what you are looking for.


Topic:  Marriage patterns in Europe and China and Dowry


How did the practice of dowry influence marriage patterns in France and China 1700-1900 in terms of age of marriage and prevalence of marriage? In other ways?

Concept Mapping

  • Concept 1: marriage
  • Concept 2: dowry
  • Concept 3: France
  • Concept 4: China

Map concepts to keywords, Think of...

  •  Synonyms (words with similar meaning)
  •  Related terms (narrower & broader)


Concept 1: marriage, marry,  betrothal, wedding...

Concept 2: Dowry, dower, trousseau, marriage portion...

Concept 3: France, French, Paris, Parisian, Bordeaux, Provence....

Concept 4:  China, Chinese, Beijing, Peking, Guangdong...

Example - Search Technique 3 - Boolean Searching

Combining Keywords into search statements using Boolean Connectors

Boolean Operators  (short online tutorial)  Combining the Operators


 - All keywords must appear in the results
– Narrows a search, find less numbers of record

France AND dowry


–Any one or all of the keywords should appear
–Broadens a search, find more

"marriage portion" OR dowry

(  )

Brackets combine keywords of similar concept


("marriage portion" OR dowry ) 


(China OR Chinese)



Don't make your search too long and complicated.

Begin by combining only TWO aspects (focus areas) at a time.

© HKUST Library, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. All Rights Reserved.