Skip to Main Content

SOCL 302: Sociological Research

Search Strategies


When searching in databases, enter keywords instead of entire sentences Ask yourself: What are the main points of what you are trying to find research on?

For example, let's say your research question is: what are the effects of exercise on the mental health of college students? Your keywords would be: mental health, college students and exercise.

Alternate keywords

It's also helpful to think of synonyms for your keywords. What are the different words scholars might use to describe that term?

For example: College students could be described as: undergraduates, young adults, freshmen, university students.

Alternate keywords can also be helpful to help you narrow down your results.

For example: An alternate keyword for exercise could be running, a specific type of exercise that could narrow down our results.

Similarly, you can use alternate keywords if you get too few results.

For example: Instead of searching for "freshmen," you might want to think of a broader term and try searching for "college students" instead.

Tricks for searching

Another tip for searching is to use the boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT. These are words you can use in addition to keywords to get relevant results.

  • AND: You add "and" to narrow a search. This tells a database you only want articles that talk about both the search terms. For example: "mental health" AND "undergraduates." This means you will get articles about mental health specifically of undergraduates.
  • OR: You add "or" to broaden a search. This is helpful to use on synonyms. For example, "mental health" OR "depression" OR "anxiety"
  • NOT: You add "not" to eliminate results. For example, if you don't want to see articles that talk about anxiety you would use "NOT anxiety"

Another helpful trick is to put terms or phrases in "quotations." This tells a database you are interested in those words as a phrase.

Break down your search

Finding articles is a difficult process. Rarely does one search in a database pull up all the results you will need for a literature review. Instead, you need to break your search down into multiple searches.

For example, if you are writing a literature review on the benefits of college education, you would need to do separate searches like:

  • Salary AND "college graduates"
  • Salary AND "education level" OR "level of education"
  • Job satisfaction AND "education level" OR "level of education"
  • Opposing viewpoints: student loan debt; unemployment

Reading Articles

Academic research articles can be kind of tricky to read. Watch this quick video on strategies for successfully reading research articles and determining if they will be relevant and useful for your lit review.

Citation Tracking

Found a source you love and want to find similar articles? Great! This section will give you a few tips.

Take a look at the source's reference list or bibliography to find sources the authors used in their work. This process is called citation tracking.

  1. If you liked a piece of research presented throughout the reading, look for the in-text citation. 
  2. Then look up the complete citation in the source's bibliography, works cited, or references list.
  3. Search for the article in Citation Linker. You only need to search for the article title and journal title.
    1. If the full-text is available, you will see a link to the database that contains it.
    2. If one of our databases does not have access to the full-text, you will be prompted to request the item through IDS.


It is also helpful to know if other authors have cited the articles you liked. These articles will likely be on similar topics and show how an author has influenced the field. 

   1. Look up the citation for the source you liked in Google Scholar.

   2. Then click the "Cited By" button beneath the description of the article. 

   3. This pulls up a list of authors who have cited the article and provides links to view full text when available! Many of these articles will be similar to the original one that you looked up. If there is not a PDF available in Google Scholar, then you can use Citation Linker to have Milne Library get it through IDS for you.

When finding sources this way, make sure to check that the articles were published in one of the approved journals!