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SOC 406: Sociology of Deviance

Guide created to support course work in SOC 406 Sociology of Deviance


How do you know if you have done enough?

This is a question that I often get from researchers who are collecting information on a topic for their literature review. In this lesson, you will be introduced to two general ideas for documenting your search.  

  • Identify and document keywords related to the major concepts of your topic.
  • Develop and document search strings, limits & databases  

Strategy: finding background material

You can save yourself quite a bit of time by first using secondary resources such as handbooks and encyclopedias to identify and focus on a topic.

It is important to remember that most scholarly articles are focusing on a very specific research question. Often it is better to understand the landscape of the topic before getting lost in the weeds. Furthermore, often articles found in scholarly handbooks and encyclopedias will help identify important research on that topic within the landscape of the issue.

This guide provides a list of scholarly handbooks that you can browse here:

This guide provides a list of scholarly encyclopedias that you can browse here:

  Tips for search can be found on the Background Resources tab

Strategy: document search terms

Start Here:

There are two short videos that can provide you with some strategies for using library databases to come up with useful terms. Those are located in the tab Scholarly Articles here:

Why would I want to document my search terms?

  • Helps you refine your topic
  • Organize your annotated bibliography
  • Provide you with a foundation for developing a focused research question
  • Help you communicate with other researchers your strategy (reproducibility)

What is your topic?

"A good research topic is one which you can do with the time and resources you have. Remember, time is money—your own time is a major resource. The resources you have will influence how you will do the research, but you need to have enough to do justice to the topic."  Byrne

What do we mean by concepts? Most topics that you will explore will break down into two to three major concepts or ideas. Concepts can be more of a fluid collection of ideas you have about your topic that may change as you explore the literature.  If they change they you need to record those changes.  

Keywords: are the terms that authors and indexers use to tag or describe the content of the information you discover as you explore the broader concepts.  Keywords may even assist you in redefining and focusing concepts.  These keywords could be broad or narrower terms, but all have some relationship with the concept you are exploring.

Below is a simple example of a table you could use to record this stage in managing your search.  Keep in mind that your table could have more concepts and will most likely have more than three keywords.          

Topics should have 2-3 major concepts
  Concept Concept Concept

Let's Explore:

Tagging or more appropriately "scholarly indexing" is a way that librarians and information specialist identify at set of search terms or keywords that can assist them as they explore concepts.  Each library database has its own unique set of subjects that indexers use to assign often available in a thesaurus or subject index.

Simply stated, scholarly indexing is a systematic way to consistently tag information in a library database so that researchers can quickly discover relationships between information and search more effectively.  

sample Sociological Abstracts record showing subject tags and keyword highlighting


On the right is an example of an individual record in Sociological Abstracts for a journal article by Jennifer Van Hook and Jennifer Glick "Immigration and living arrangements: Moving beyond economic need versus acculturation" in the journal Demography 44(2): 225-249.  

Highlighted in red are the subject tags [United States of America; Mexico; Family; Immigration; Households] that indexers of this database have used to describe the content of this particular article written by these two scholars and demographers at Penn State.

Note: Sociological Abstracts also provides a very broad classification scheme highlighted.

Strategy: document search strings & databases

Why would I want to document my search strategy?

  • Allows you to track whether or not you have comprehensively covered all the potential combination of keywords.
  • Helps you critically think about what the search string is actually doing and how the database is behaving with that strategy
  • Allows you to craft search strings that you can use in Alert services to keep you up-to-date  
  • Help you communicate with other researchers your search strategy (reproducibility)

What is a search string? 

A search string is a combination of search terms that you have used to explore an information resource.  How you combine those terms or how the information resource combines your terms is important to know.  Particularly, as we look at other ways to manage your search.  

For example, lets quickly look at the variety of ways we can combine some of the keywords for the article ""Immigration and living arrangements: Moving beyond economic need versus acculturation".  From our example above these were the keywords: United States of America; Mexico; Family; Immigration; Households 

Images taken from the Wikimedia Commons.
two overlapping circles in white with the overlapping part in red  Family AND Immigration 

Combing terms with AND retrieves information that contains both of those terms.  

Result: you are narrowing your search.

two overlapping circles with the entire two circles in red Family OR Immigration

Combing terms with OR retrieves information that contains at least one of these terms, but not necessarily both.  

Result: you are making your search broader.

two overlapping circles in white, with the left circle in red where it does not overlap with the right circle Family NOT immigration

Combing terms with NOT means that you will retrieve information that has the term family, but not those resources that have the term immigration.

Result: you are limiting your search.

You can also use any combination of those operators in your search string making a very sophisticated and focused search.  For example, Immigration AND (Family OR Households).

This will retrieve information resources that have the term immigration that appear in a resource with those information sources that include (family OR households).


Let's Explore:

Now that you documented concepts and keywords related to your topic, it is equally important to document and communicate how you combined those keywords into a search strategy in a particular database.  This documentation includes (with examples):

Search Strategy Documentation
Name of the database Search string used Limits on the search
Academic complete immigration and living conditions Limiters - Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals
Sociological Abstracts su(immigration) AND su(living conditions) Limiters: last 12 months, Scholarly (Peer Reviewed Journals)
Google Scholar immigration "living conditions" source:social forces Limiters: since 2013

Note: most of the necessary information can be found in search history of a database as you are exploring.  For example, you may not know that the syntax for limiting to the subject field is su(term) in sociological abstracts, because you used the drop down menus to do this.  But, the search history will provide the correct syntax that you can use to track this information.  

Strategy: other important concepts to document

Concepts to Document
Concepts Explanation
Journal titles

By keeping track of journal titles you can focus your search in a database by limiting your keywords to that journal.

For example, you can go into the advanced search in Google Scholar and with the phrase "sexual predators" and Return articles published in the journal Deviant Behavior.

You can also browse a journal by going to the libraries home page and clicking on the tab E-journals and typing in the journal title. If we own access to the electronic copy of the journal this will provide you a link.

Authors Authors that frequently are mentioned in your search can also be helpful. 
Organizations Finally, keep track of organizations mentioned in material that you find. These can be professional organization like the American Sociological Association (ASA) or they can be research and policy organizations like the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.