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Anthropology Library Research Guide

How to Gut a (Scholarly) Book in 5 Almost-easy Steps

From Karin Wulf, "Efficient Reading."
"My method for efficient reading is TICCN.  I’m referring here to reading a book, but I use the same basic method for an article.
T = Title and structure.
I = Introduction.
C = Conclusion.
C = Chapters.
N = Notes.
Title and structure may be self-evident, but I’m surprised how often or how quickly, as critical readers, we pass over a book’s title. And just as telling, sometimes more so, are the chapter (and section) titles and structure.   Reading an Introduction for the articulation of the thesis is pretty basic, but it’s worth noting that you need to do that intentionally. This is where the author wants you to know where her argument relates to other scholarship, how it contributes to and challenges work in the field. Which field or fields does she think her work is best speaking to or with? How is she positioning her work vis a vis established scholarship? Emerging scholarship?  Particular methods and theoretical positions? The conclusion is next for me because I want to know whether the author in fact ends where she meant to end up.
Reading the introduction and conclusion of each chapter, then, is the next step in assessing the argument’s development. It’s also a way to assess which chapters carry which burden of the argument. Sometimes it’s clear that particular chapters are more consequential than others in moving the argument ahead, and then it’s important to pay particular attention to the evidence that’s marshaled there. I try to skim the notes for each chapter to understand when the type or volume of evidence changes. This is not to suggest that more traditional, textual evidence is reflective of a chapter’s significance (either for the book, or more generally speaking). It might be that the most important argument of the book comes from a particularly revealing analysis of a single source– or interpretation of previous scholarship’s reliance on same. It is to note that attention to how an author marshals evidence can be, along with primary argument and scholarly positioning, the most important thing you take from an efficient reading."

Finding Sources

Try These First!
  • KEYWORD search to find relevant or interesting sources
  • Look for SUBJECT terms in relevant books and articles; click on or search those
  • READ or SKIM abstracts, ToC, introductions, and bibliographies
  • Find relevant sources CITED within sources and read or skim them
  • REPEAT for every topic
  • Look for the scholarly conversation
Anthropology Journal Articles
  • Anthropology Plus (anthropology articles; broader search, no full text searching)
  • AnthroSource (anthropology articles; narrower search, full text searching)
  • Google Scholar (Try the "cited by” feature, Search within citations)

Anthropology Review Articles, Handbooks, and Bibliographies (Good for theory, background, and context)

Books (Anthropology books are at call# range: GN)
  • Catalog (Search books and journals at Princeton)
  • WorldCat (Search books at other libraries)

Finding a Scholarly Conversation

  • Search for recent scholarly books or articles as focused on your topic as possible. Review or “handbook” articles and scholarly encyclopedia entries make good starting places if available.
  • Stop searching and skim/read the books or articles for especially interesting or relevant parts that cite other scholars. Look for authors discussing other authors, not just publications listed in a bibliography.
  • Find the cited books or articles and skim/read them for especially interesting or relevant parts that cite other scholars.
  • Repeat until you start seeing connections among scholars, publications, themes, theories, etc.
  • To go forward in the “conversation,” use the Google Scholar “Cited By” feature to see who has cited the most useful books or articles.
  • Also try Web of Science: Cited Reference Search / Related Articles / Shared References

When Your Topic Doesn't Have Much Anthropology Lit to Review

Strategies for an Anthropology Literature Review When There Isn't Much Anthropology Literature on Your Topic:

  • Analyze fewer anthropology sources more deeply. Work with what you have.
  • Review any tangentially related anthropology literature .
  • Broaden your context until there’s enough anthropology literature to review.
  • Bring in relevant non-anthropological literature as needed (e.g., public health in medical anthropology), but don’t make that the only focus of your review. Use the anthropology as a lens to view the other literature.
  • Find theoretical sources through the practical sources.
  • Find scholars in conversation with each other.
  • Remember: there are no bad sources, only bad ways to use them.

Reviewing the Literature

From Shan-Estelle Brown. Writing in Anthropology: a Brief Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.


  • First Look at the Title and Identify Its Key Words
  • Review the Abstract
  • Examine the Structure
  • Identify the Purpose
  • Ask the Essential Questions:
  • What is the Question, Controversy, or Problem Driving the Study?
  • Who or What Group was Being Studied
  • How was the Study Executed? What Method was Used? What Kind of Study was Done?
  • What Questions were Addressed or Asked in the Study to Generate Data?
  • What was Found in the Study? What were the Results of the Study? Why did the Scientists They they Found what they Found?
  • How does this study—in its Methods as well as in the Findings it Shares—Relate to other Relevant or Potential Studies?

To move from a series of summaries to an argument, ask yourself the following:

  • What is my specific problem or research question?
  • How does each source relate to it?
  • What type of literature review am I conducting?
  • Am I seeing trends in theory, in methods, within the work of specific researchers, in findings across sources? What can I say about the trend?
  • What unexpected findings or patterns emerged as I read across the literature?
  • Are there contradictions or telling points of disagreement in the literature?
  • Where do I stand on the specific debates under way among the authors of the sources?