Sociology: Social Research Methods

Getting Started

...sizable shares of the public see problems
in news coverage of scientific research
stemming from the media and from
researchers, as well as the public

​Funk, C., Gottfried, J., and Mitchell, A.. “Science
news and information today.” Pew Research
Center’s Journalism Project
September 20, 2017.

How on earth did I cite this!?  look in the next
column over for "Citation Help" -->

Around 2 million scholarly articles are published every year -put that into the pile of 60-100 million that already exist and you can justifiably feel overwhelmed -especially when a literature review assignment asks you to rationally pick a handful of the best ones for your project (that's making my skin crawl just thinking about it).  Along with a librarian class visit, this guide will help you mitigate anxiety and give you strategies to negotiate library research with confidence (really!)

Please do contact me for an appointment or just e-mail questions -I'll even entertain a group of you, it is my work to help you with yours!- at

Step One:
Background Info

(note: these are not considered scholarly)

Finding just the main ideas and context helps -make a point of recording jargon, technical terms, names, populations, etc.  When you do background searches, you're looking for context, currency, jargon, etc.

Wikipedia (don't cite -but dig for trends/ideas/subjects/etc.)
Nexis UNI (heaps of media, trends, newspapers)

CQ Researcher (What is important to U.S. voters right now)
US Newsstream (newspapers all across the U.S. -lots of local info, opinion, policy commentary)

Step Two: Mid-level Research 
(note: these are a mix of scholarly and non-scholarly -take care)

Use these to discover articles in specific social science disciplines that work well for your topic (or aspects of the problem or solutions presented).  These can contribute to your literature review, so document your searches and download good results.

Sociological Abstracts (sociology & social work -one of my favorites)
Social Science Premium Collection (remember to filter out the dissertations for scholarly journals only)

Communication & Mass Media Complete (great for marketing, public health campaigns -just put this in February -sorry for the omission!)
Family & Society Studies Worldwide (a new one to try (new to us at the U))

PsycINFO (psychology, but with many applications in social sciences)
Education Full Text & ERIC (education, family development)
GenderWatch (Gender Studies)
Women's Studies International (Gender Studies)
Business Source Premier (business)
PAIS (public policy and analysis)

Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (politics)

Churning through census data:
Social Explorer

Step Three: Literature Review Tools
(note: these are typically the high-end of academic scholarship)

Scopus  AND Web of Science -Amazing/Awesome databases, all scholarly:
            tip 1: select "social sciences & humanities" at the search page (unchecking the others).
            tip 2: Do a search and in the results, click "cited by" as the sorting option (right-hand side).  The most cited, most influential articles will now appear at the top.

Google Scholar (fun discovery too, not always complete, but a worthwhile additional place to use)

Open Web and Government Info

Media Analysis

Are you interested in analyzing media critically, or cruising through "data sets" & "samples" on your own?  Libraries have long held tons of magazines & newspapers, but it isn't until rather recent times that they've been digitized.  There's more than this, but the following are good starting points:

critical analysis databases
Modern Language Association International Bibliography
Project MUSE
Communication & Mass Media Complete
Film & Television Literature Index
Music Database
(yes, that's what they really named it ;-) 

media fun (create your own thematic & longitudinal research
Vogue Archives
Women's Magazine Archive
(before you cringe too much at the title, this is text searchable, 100+ years of publications, and one of the few to have advertising kept in the database (also searchable))
Index of Newspapers at Marriott Library
(some of them complete runs of 100+ years for longitudinal research)


Governments' Publications
(note: these are often created as evidence for funding, so not necessarily scholarly -but look for solid data; there's a lot to see)

If you receive government funding (federal, state or local) you typically have to report on what you did with it.  The U.S. and its states have a tradition of openness in our documentation and there's a lot to find on websites.  Note that historical records exist, but sometimes in an older format like microfilm -so don't be discouraged if it doesn't show up on your first searches -I'm happy to help you track down data. & (indexes federal and some state resources -just try out some keywords)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

There's also: benefits, education, immigration, etc. etc. or the target state you're interested in is a good place to start.


Think Tank, Policy Institute, Research Institute & Others on the Web
(note: these are sometimes helpful, but be wary in using a source until you've verified its authority with your instructor!)

Just like an expert witness in a court, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that is also non-profit may perform research and self-publish it on a really great looking website.  It might be unbiased and worthwhile, but it also may be funded by a for-profit company interested in shaping public opinion.  Take care!

search in google (add your topics/keywords, no space after the colon)
policy institute:homelessness
research institute:homelessness

ALSO: Pot luck! (change out my keyword for yours!)
questionnaire:voluntary simplicity

also try:
methodology:search term
literature review:search term

in-class workshop

Dale the Librarian’s Cruel Team-Bibliography In-Class Exercise

Gather into your subject team from last class (the people you made a post-it notes poster with) and research articles on the team topic published in the last 5 years.  As a team, pick your top 3 favorites and create a bibliography of 3 articles in the following manner (you get to pick the order of the 3 articles).  This is a team effort, but you’ll have to pick one person to act as the central data ‘publisher’ who will send the bibliography to moi

0-cite the article (any style is fine, but make sure all 3 articles have the same citation style)

1-ONLY USING THE WORDS OF THE AUTHOR; what is a main point the author makes in the abstract or first page or two? -One sentence, or less, plz!

2-In your word(s): what was their method of gathering information? -one sentence or less, plz

3-ONLY USING THE WORDS OF THE AUTHOR: what is an outcome/discovery/conclusion of the author(s)? one sentence or less, plz

4-send to w/ subject line Soc3111 Team Name (you get to make this up)

-then we’ll guess why you picked what you did on the screen in front of class -whee!!

Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

At the end of the library class, students should be able to:

1. Understand the scope of Marriott Library Resources & Services

2. Understand and apply academic library research strategies

3. Understand several contexts of standards of authority & credibility & integrity

Government Sources (GAO, State Ethics, licensing &oversight)

Academic Sources (IRB, tenure/impact)

Mind Mapping :-)

Dale's starter kit for engaging with complicated literature:

First Stop: Library Research:
As you find articles that you think are relevant, 
   download the article (get that full text and save it)
   get a small amount of citation information (title, journal, etc.)
   read the first page or so and write a sentence about what the article is saying
   find a quote that agrees with the sentence you wrote

Second Stop: Synthesis
After you have a list of articles, try to put them into a cohesive order where each article contributes to a greater narrative or point.  This can be helped greatly by a chaotic mind map where you try to tie concepts to each other into a greater whole

(Dale's sample is not the only way to do it, but it is one way that works for me :-)

Notes on IRB (Institutional Review Board)

The Institutional Review Board has a critical role in reducing risk for the reputation of the college, university -and also, especially, for the research subjects.  Instead of being burdensome, it can offer an excellent third party critical review to your research to ensure it is free from bias or other significant problems.  The University of Utah IRB page (some links below) wants you to succeed and offers training and help as well as forms and tools for getting it right.

UofU Human Research Training (including CITI info)

New Investigator Toolkit (handy!)

The CHOP Boilerplate -what's IRB?


Don't fear the "Find It" button!

Here's the rule: click on it and either find a link to the article in another database -or when confronted by "NO ELECTRONIC FULL-TEXT" -request the item yourself at Inter-Library Loan (ask me if you get stuck for more than 60 seconds, I can help:

Citation Help

Citation Styles gettin' you down?  Here's my top picks for 'Citation Management':

Zotero | Dale's Video Overview! 
(Our resident Zotero expert is ready to help)

(how to use NoodleTools)

Information Literacy Criteria

Information literacy can be stated in a variety of ways, but in a nutshell, here a list of criteria that may help: Dale's PADRE information literacy criteria

Subject Guide

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Dale Larsen

I love to help with your research: from just seeing the assignment, to wrapping up with citation management -drop me a line or come by 1726C on the first floor of the Marriott Library

Send me an e-mail -I'd love to hear from you!
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