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Sociology Graduate Student Resources: Research Strategies

Research Approaches

1. Search Relevant Databases 

Databases allow you to search across hundreds of academic journals using a single interface. UC Merced provides access to over 700 databases. You will likely need to search multiple databases to address your topic. 

  1. On the A-Z Database page, use the Subject and Database Types menus to identify relevant databases

2. Locate a Bibliography

Bibliographies often point to primary sources. 

  1. Read a secondary source and examine the bibliography.
  2. Search for a bibliography whether through an online catalog (Melvyl) or on the web.

3. Identify an Individual.

Locate that individual's papers, works etc.

American National Biography Online

  • Ronald Reagan

Melvyl

4. Identify an Organization

Locate documents created by an organization. In catalogs, looks for organizations as authors.

#1 Identify your question. Identify the key concepts and related terms. Tip:  You may want to re-phrase your question. Background reading can help you identify related terms and further define or narrow your topic. 

#2 Find an appropriate search tool. Consider your subject matter, discipline of study, type of information needed (e.g. peer reviewed articles)

#3 Start with a simple search based on your key concepts. Tip: You may also have to look at literature that refers to one (not all) aspects of your research question.

#4 Use specific search strategies.

  • Use AND to join dissimilar terms. Use OR to join synonyms or related terms.
  • Truncate words with * to pick up variations of that word.
  • Use "quotation marks" for phrase searching.
  • Use database filters e.g. limit to scholarly journals.
  • Consider searching in a specific field e.g. title (article title) or source (journal title)

#5 Search and skim results. Look for the language and terms that researchers use and that the database assigns to articles (Subjects).

#6 Switch up your searches.  Use promising new terminologyYour search may become more sophisticated.

#7 Explore bibliographies to locate other articles, books, or authors who have written on the same topic. Find known items. Tip: See "Find a Known Item" tab on this guide.

Brainstorming Search Terms

How does the impact of participation in extracurricular activities impact undergraduate student success?

Independent Variable: extracurricular activity participation

Defined by: participation in sports/ student government/ clubs & orgs; participation in academic-type activities vs. participation in sports-like activities

Dependent Variable: student success

Defined by: GPA, grades, pass/fall rates, graduation rates, class ranking