For the typical Sociology assignment you'll want to start off in SocIndex, an EBSCOHOST database.
Try entering a relevant keyword in the initial search screen and observe how many results you get. In the example below, the keyword is deviance. The database will look for all records of articles with the word deviance in the title, author names, abstract, subject fields, and anywhere else the word might appear.
We get over 6,000 results, and that's way too many hits to look at. So how might you reduce this number to a more reasonable amount? And more importantly, how do you focus in on what you're interested in?
One way is to add more keywords. The more keywords you include, the more focused your results will be. For example you could specify geography - terms like United States, Brazil, Latin America, Western Hemisphere. Or you could specify a population - college students, Latinos, housewives, women, children, the elderly, etc. You can add more concepts like art, sexuality, drug use, road rage.
Adding elderly and United States takes us from 6,000+ to 20 results.
One way to strongly focus on a keyword is to search it in article titles only. Change the dropdown menu next to the keyword from Select a Field to TI Title.
"Facets" are categories and limiters listed on the left side of the screen, as you find in many shopping websites such as Amazon and Zappos. These allow you to quickly narrow down to what you're most interested in.
In SocIndex, the facets are:
Limiting keyword deviance with Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals, we go from 6,000+ results to 4,000+ results.If we add United States as Geographical limiter, we get down to 200+ results.
What if you're not finding enough articles on your topic? Here are two strategies to try.
Use the asterisk * to truncate words to their stems, so that you capture all derivations of a word. For example, with deviance we could expand our search by inputting devian*. This will tell the database to ignore letters after the asterisk and will bring up results like deviance, deviant, deviants. Similarly, child* would collect results like child, children, childhood.
Using devian* as a keyword, we get about 2,000 more results than deviance.
Colorado College subscribes to many EBSCOHOST databases and you can search several simultaneously. This is useful when you have a topic that's a bit interdisciplinary or otherwise specialized.
Click on Choose Databases near the top of the screen.
You should get a pop-up window with a long list of EBSCOHOST databases. Don't attempt to "Select all" as this will probably crash your browser. Place your cursor over the dialog icon to get a brief description of each database.
Some frequently-used databases that you could search in tandem with SocIndex:
Please note that different databases may have different special limiters, and these limiters may disappear when searching a number of databases together.
Deviance searched as a keyword on both SocIndex and Academic Search Complete almost doubles our results.
So you found an article that looks great from the title and abstract. How do you get the full text of the article so that you can actually read it?
Underneath some article results, or within an article screen, you may see icons for HTML Full Text and PDF Full Text. The PDF version is usually preferable, if you have a choice. The PDF will be formatted as per the original publication, it should be paginated, and it should have all the illustrations, tables, diagrams, photos, etc. from the original article. HTML full text is just plain text with no pagination and often omits any type of graphics.
Tip: if you're having trouble viewing or printing a PDF article in EBSCO, try downloading (saving) the article and opening the file with Adobe Acrobat or similar PDF reader. You can also try a different browser. Sometimes, EBSCO's PDF viewer doesn't always work with every browser (often right after a significant browser update).
But what if you find an article that has no HTML Full Text or PDF Full Text icon? This is when you should try the TUTT LINK button. Colorado College pays hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for databases outside of EBSCO. Don't miss out!
If we're lucky, clicking on TUTT LINK will bring us directly to our article where we can easily download the PDF:
If the article doesn't come up, you can order via Interlibrary Loan. However, this can take 24-48 hours on business days to process, so be aware of time constraints on the Block Plan!
Consult your syllabus (or other source) for details on your research assignment/paper. Choose a topic that fits within the parameters of the assignment.
When trying to come up with a topic, think about what you've read so far in class and if anything seemed particularly interesting or pertinent to your own experiences. Another way to spice up a topic is to use controversial, argument or similar word as a keyword while searching concepts.
If you're somewhat unfamiliar with a topic, it can be worth your while to do a little reference reading first. Get an overview of the subject so that you feel more comfortable researching and writing about it. You can consult Wikipedia (but never cite it as a source unless your professor explicitly says otherwise) or take a look at Reference books in the library's collection -- we have both print and electronic books for your perusal.
As you learn more about your topic, think about a few ways you can take it in certain directions - geographical, time period, population, sociological concept, and so on. You'll also want to keep the assignment in mind and constantly tailor your ideas to suit the assignment.
Finally, it's important to realize that you may not always find articles that are directly relevant to your topic. This is pretty common. The remedy is to adjust your topic to fit your sources, or perhaps make your topic a little broader. You may want to consult with your professor if your topic seems too difficult.
Asterisk (Shift-8 on a computer keyboard) is the wildcard; it will help you find different versions of a root word.
searches child, children, childhood, child's childish, children's, etc.
Quotation marks "" force the database to search words as a phrase, instead of finding them both together and in unconnected ways.
"domestic violence" searches only those instances of domestic violence as a phrase.
searching just domestic violence without quotes "" will find all instances of domestic, violence, and domestic violence.