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CPC 511 : Research Paper : Cultural Aspects of Mourning

an assignment guide for CPC 511

Guide Introduction


The purpose of this research guide is to provide strategies which will help you find cultural aspects of grief & mourning for your research paper.  By the end of this guide, you will be able to: 

  1. Search the library catalog and databases using keywords and subject terms. 
  2. Explore journals, books, and databases focused on the topics of death & dying. 
  3. Consider the ethical implications of doing cross-cultural and/or indigenous research. 

As with any assignment, please reach out to Ask a Librarian with any questions. 

Getting Started

Preparing to Research

This assignment asks you to explore mourning practices from a culture other than your own. Themes to consider include:

  1. how the culture under investigation views death;
  2. the meaning and significance given to death;
  3. conceptualizations of the afterlife;
  4. mourning rituals;
  5. gendered responsibilities during periods of mourning;
  6. public and private dimensions of mourning;
  7. the clinical relevance of culture-bound mourning traditions; and
  8. ethical considerations when working with the bereaved.

Searching the library catalog allows you to search across the library's article and e-book databases.  We also recommend that you search in one or more subject specific databases. You can even specifically target your search to journals in the field of death & dying. 

Visit the Journals page of this guide for specific suggestions.

Search Tips

There are two main strategies for searching in databases – using either keywords or subject terms. There are important advantages to both methods; knowing how to use them and how they differ from each other will help you retrieve better, more accurate results.

Keywords are any significant words or phrases you can use to describe your topic. This is usually the default option when searching in databases.

Subject terms are the specific language or terminology determined by the database to describe a topic. These are the terms databases use to sort and locate articles. Using subject terms is similar to using the index at the back of a book.

When doing advanced searching, using both search methods can help you increase your search results.

For a review of basic library search tips, see the guide linked below:

Using Keywords

Starting with Keywords

Keywords are great places to start searching, especially if you want to get more familiar with your topic, because they are more flexible searches. However, keyword searching may bring back irrelevant results. 

To effectively search with keywords, take the time to brainstorm your topic, and identify keywords that describe your topic best. Think of synonyms and variant forms of terms (both singular and plural).

For example, in this assignment, the topic focuses on loss, grief, mourning bereavement; you might also want to research funeral rites, rituals, or practices. All of these terms could be used to start your search. 

In addition, you will want to consider keywords that describe your population of interest. These may be ethnic or cultural designations, countries of origin, or religious affiliations. 

For example, you might start with a search like Japan AND grief

Japan AND (grief OR grieving OR mourning OR death)

Another option would be to consider what religious traditions might exist in Japan, and search with those terms. Buddhism AND Japan AND mourning, for example. 

Using Subject Headings

Advanced Searching with Subject Terms

Subject terms typically bring back more relevant results. Subject terms are a controlled vocabulary for the entire topic, including any synonyms in a single search. 

For example, If you are researching mental illness in PsycINFO, the designated subject term is "mental disorders". This term not only pulls up articles about mental illness, but may also pull up articles that list specific instances of mental illness, like PTSD or bi-polar disorder. 
By using the designated subject terminology, you are getting ALL the results in a database related to your topic even when the language authors use vary in one search.

Subject terms vary from database to database, and are not something you will automatically know.  Before you begin searching by subject term, you'll need to discover the correct term.

How to find Subject terms

1. Follow the links. The library catalog (and most databases), have hyperlinked subject headings. When you've found a relevant article using a keyword search, take a look at that article's subject headings. Click on one to bring back other items tagged with the same heading. 


















2. Many databases have a thesaurus where you can look up the subject terms used in that database, and add the term directly to your search. See this example from the database PsycINFO:













3.  Ask a Librarian! Librarians can help you find the subject terms for the database you are using. 

Combining Subject & Keyword Searching

Using Subject Terms and Keywords in the Catalog

When you know a specific subject term, you can combine subject term searching with keyword searching by using use the Advanced Search option in CityU's library catalog (Summon). This advanced search technique can help bring back more relevant results. 

  1. Under "Search & Request," choose "Library Search"
  2. Click on "Options," to the far right of the search bar.
  3. Choose "Subject Terms" from the drop-down menu on the first row, and enter your subject term.
  4. Add keywords as needed in subsequent rows.

For a quick overview, watch this 20 second video:


Using Subject Terms and Keywords in Databases

Most databases will have their own Advanced Search page, and similar searching techniques will apply. Check any drop-down menus for a "Subject" category, and then add additional keywords on subsequent rows. Here's an example from PsycInfo: