SOC 591 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology: Search Strategies

Keyword vs. Subject Heading Searching

Disciplinary databases often have subject headings (a set of official terms used to describe something). For example, the American Psychological Association Thesaurus is a list of subject heading terms that are assigned to items indexed in the PsycINFO database. Subject heading searching can improve the relevance of your search results since other items in the database about that same thing will have the same subject heading. 

Multidisciplinary databases like Web of Science do not have subject headings and must be searched with keywords. 


  • good initial strategy
  • must perform searches with synonymous words/terms
  • more likely to have irrelevant results

Subject Headings

  • standardized words or phrases used to categorize literature
  • relevant results much more likely
  • subject headings not consistent across databases

SocINDEX & Sociological Abstracts Search Tips

  • Quotation marks searches the database for those words together as a term
  • An asterisk (*) searches the database for that word plus any variants of the root word (e.g. work* finds worker, working, worked)
  • Use the OR search fields to search for synonyms
  • Use the limits to filter for a particular source type, such as "scholarly journals".



References & Citation Searching

Aside from searching databases by topic, another very important way of discovering research is using the reference list of articles and seeing who else has cited the article. How many times an article has been cited can tell you not only how influential an article has been, but can lead you to more articles on your topic.