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Sociology 15 (Erin): Research Strategies & Search Terms

Research Methods in Sociology

Question to Strategy

Research Strategies

#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.

Reference Sources & Background Information

Reference sources, like specialized dictionaries, specialized encyclopedias, handbooks, almanacs, bibliographies, atlases, and gazetteers, help you answer basic questions, such as definitions, statistical information, procedures, geographic information, and overviews on topics.

Additional Search Terms

Database Thesaurus & Subject Headings

Databases assign Subject Headings or Keywords to describe the main concepts of each article or resource. For example, the article: 

How do adolescents perceive the risks related to cell-phone use?

is assigned the Subject Headings: Teenagers; Cellular telephones; Perceptions; Radiation; Risk factors; Automobile driving

Use the Sociological Abstracts thesaurus to look up the main concepts of your research question to identify associated Subject Headings.