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SOCI 2010: Research Question and Search Strategy

This guide will help students find, use, and evaluate resources for their SOCI 2010 assignment.

Powerpoint from class

Define Your Topic

When conducting any kind of research, it is good practice to develop a research question and then focus your research on answering that question. 

Brainstorming a good research question is not easy. Try first to identify a problem or area of interest, and then ask yourself open ended questions why or how questions to narrow the topic down.

For example, you may wonder if the public school system increases rates of substance abuse in youth. You may ask yourself why and how questions based upon this: Why do youth become involved in substance abuse (peer pressure? lower socio-economic status)? How does peer pressure effect a youth's decision to abuse substances?

You then could flip this and hypothesize that homeschooled students would have lower rates of substance abuse. Your research question could be  What is the relationship between school choice and rates of substance abuse?

You could create many different research questions based upon the problem and hypotheses above. Your question also may change as you begin to search. 

Develop your Search Strategy

Search for the keywords - the big ideas or main concepts - in your research question. You can make your search more effective by using the following to separate your keywords (terms):

  • AND - find all  the terms (ex. homeschool* AND "substance abuse")
  • OR - find any of the terms (ex. drug* OR alcohol)
  • NOT - exclude a certain term (ex. homeschool* NOT "secondary school")


Example search based upon the following research question: What is the relationship between school choice and rates of substance abuse?

Search string: (Homeschool* OR "home school*) AND (drug* OR alcohol OR "substance abuse") 

Note that the above search string is one example; you will likely have to conduct many searches to fully answer your research question. 


Q. How do I know what constitutes an empirical research article? 

A. An empirical research article will focus on answering a research question using quantitative methodology, qualitative methodology, or mixed methods (both quantitative and qualitative). Research articles will typically have the following sections: introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion.  There will also likely be charts/graphs/data in the article or in the appendix showing how the author(s) conducted their research and what they found. 

Q. Can I use a thesis/dissertation?

A. No! While Theses/Dissertations are often good places to go to find recent research on a topic, they have not undergone the same peer review process as journals (although review likely has been done by their supervisor/committee).

Q. I can't find articles on my topic! What do I do?

A. If you are only looking in one database (e.g. SocINDEX) expand your search out to different databases (e.g. Proquest, Academic Search Complete, or Google Scholar). Remember, you are still looking for Sociology articles. If you still cannot find sociological articles on your topic, you might want to adjust or refine your search strategy and/or topic. Remember, don't hesitate to ask the library for help. 

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