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Sociology: Search Strategies

This subject guide supports basic and advanced research in Sociology related topics.

Subject vs. Citation Searching

There are two basic ways to find information once you start researching your topic:

  • Subject-specific searching
  • Citation searching 

Subject-specific searching

Searching within your subject area will give you more specific research that speaks to your own research topic. 

  • Use the Research Databases to find relevant and subject-specific databases.
  • Contact your subject librarian for a one-on-one session.
  • Find a Subject Guide on your research area.
  • Find Annual Reviews in your discipline.

Citation searching 

Searching by citations is a useful way to find research directly related to your topic. In citation searching you use a work of scholarly literature to find more literature that was cited by that work or cites that work.  Citation searching can be done two ways: 

  • Citation chasing
    • Looking at the Works Cited page or Bibliography of an article or book that fits within your topic.
    • Looking in the "past" at work an article references.
  • Cited reference searching
    • Using a citation indexing service, like Scopus, Web of Science, or Google Scholar, to find research that cites a specific article or work.
    • Looking in the "future" at works that referenced a specific article. 

Using citations to search for scholarly literature can help you think more broadly about your research topic within the larger discipline, and help you answer the following questions:

  • Who/what are the big names and articles in this area?
  • Who is this research in conversation with?

Phrase searching

Additional Strategies

Keywords vs Subjects/Descriptors

When you know your topic and want to explore what else has been written, you will search for articles, books, dissertations, and other types of publications in various databases. It is important and useful to know how different search terms work in databases. Here, we will cover keyword and subject searches.

keyword search involves typing into the search box the terms that you use when you think about your topic.

subject or descriptor search means that you have identified (usually through keyword searching and looking at your results) the specific terminology used in a database to talk about your subject.

Subject and descriptor terms tend to be more formal and also more precise (less ambiguous)

A good example is the term teenagerWe use that term in everyday speech and authors may use it in their articles, but a database is most likely to assign the subject heading of adolescents.

Truncation & Wildcard 

In addition to "phrase searching," Boolean operators you can also try using  truncation and wildcard searches

Truncation and wildcard searches will expand your results. Wildcard searches allow the database to replace the wildcard symbol with any letters that would make up a real word. It's like a shorthand way of typing every possible word that fits the pattern with OR in between. Not only will this save you time, but it might also give you alternative keywords you hadn't even thought of.

Here's a table to illustrate how some of these symbols (including the truncation asterisk) typically work.

Symbol What it does Sample search Instead of typing
* replaces zero or more letters at the end of a word
(this is truncation)
comput* computer OR computing OR computational OR...
# replaces at most one letter ne#t net OR neat OR next OR nest OR...
? replaces only one letter b?t bat OR bet OR bit OR bot OR but OR...

REMEMBER: Some databases may use these symbols differently or may use different symbols, so check the database's help section if you're having problems with using truncation or wildcards.

 

 

Boolean Operators in Action: AND

Boolean Operators in Action: OR

Boolean Operators in Action: NOT