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Sociology Research Guide

Basic Search Tips

a tower viewer with the word "search" at the topUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: What is the relationship between class identity and health outcomes among cancer patients in the US?

The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need the most essential components.

Keywords: class identity, health outcomes, cancer patients

Sentence: What is the relationship between class identity and health outcomes among cancer patients in the US? "Class identity," "health outcomes," and "cancer patients" is highlighted to denote their use as keywords.

Most keywords will have synonyms (words that mean the same thing or something very similar) that you can also try out in your searches. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. The more you read about your topic, the more synonyms you will come across. Keep a list!  Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do.


Keyword: health outcomes          Synonym: disease management


Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

Screnshot of OneSearch results list, highlighting the left-hand filtersMost library databases have search tools and filters built in to help you refine your results. Try some of these:

  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools and more! (The example pictured to the right is from a OneSearch results list, where the search tools and filters are located on the left-hand side.)

a person standing in front of a wall of charts and graphsYou can evaluate any source using the 5 W's:

  • Who: ...wrote it? Do they have expertise over the subject? What kind?
  • What: the purpose of this resource?
  • Where: ...was this information published? ...does the information come from?
  • When: ...was this published or last updated?
  • Why: this resource useful? this resource better than other ones?

Note: for more in-depth info on evaluating your sources, please take a look at LAVC Library's Information Evaluation guide. 

Advanced Search Tips

venn diagram: "health outcomes"  AND "class identity"Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

health outcomes AND class identity

This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.

venn diagram: "health outcomes" OR "class identity"Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.

health outcomes OR disease management

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.

screenshot of advanced search boxes from Academic Search CompleteUse the “QUOTES” strategy to search for several words together in a phrase.

"class identity"

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.

For more help with Advanced Searches, please refer to our Find Articles Guide.

[Note: the example pictured above is from the "advanced search" portion of one of our most popular databases, Academic Search Complete.]

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