SOCY 122 Library Tutorial

Stauffer Library

Introduction to Academic Library Research

1: Introduction

Welcome to the Introduction to Academic Library Research tutorial. This tutorial is designed to introduce students in SOCY 122: Introduction to Sociology to the Queen's University Library system, library research tools that will enable you to locate books and scholarly journal articles for your coursework in SOCY 122, and the skills required to search them effectively and efficiently.

One of the objectives of SOCY 122: Introduction to Sociology is to provide you with an opportunity to develop your academic library research skills. Both Assignment 1 and Assignment 2 require you to generate written arguments supported with quality academic materials, specifically books and scholarly journal articles.

Upon completion of this tutorial, you will be able to:


A quiz, based upon information covered in this tutorial, is worth 5% of your final grade, and is located in your SOCY 122 Moodle site. More information about the quiz can be found in Moodle.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial consists of nine modules of varying length:

1: Introduction: Some introductory remarks and a quick overview of the tutorial.

2: Overview: A general orientation to Queen's University Library and major research tools available from the library homepage.

3: Choosing Your Topic: Addresses selecting an appropriate sociological topic, tips on how to broaden or narrow the scope of your topic, and finding background information through discipline-specific encyclopedias.

4: Search Strategies: Search techniques you can employ to improve the efficiency of your search results.

5: Finding Books: How to search for books by title, author and topic (keywords) in QCAT, the Queen's Library Catalogue, how to locate them on the library's shelves, and using Summon to identify books on your topic.

6: Finding Articles: Characteristics of different types of articles you may come across in your research (scholarly, popular and newspaper); article indexes and databases including Sociological Abstracts and Academic Search Complete; and search engines including Summon and Google Scholar.

7: Searching the Web: Search techniques for searching the web and using subject directories to locate websites.

8: Using Information: Considers two very important aspects in the research process that occur after you have located a piece of information: evaluating and citing sources.

9: Conclusion: Tutorial wrap-up and where to go for research help, if you need it.

2: Overview

Welcome to Queen's University Library

The Queen’s University library system includes six libraries in five facilities: the Bracken Health Sciences Library, the Engineering and Science Library and W.D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library (both located in the Douglas Library Building), the Education Library, the Lederman Law Library and the Stauffer Library.

[Stauffer Library]

Stauffer Library is the Business, Humanities and Social Sciences library, and houses the majority of the sociology collection of books and printed journals. It is also home to Data Services Maps & Geospatial Data Government Information, and the Queen’s Learning Commons. Located on the main floor of Stauffer Library, the Queen’s Learning Commons brings together a comprehensive, integrated set of academic support services, workshops, and resources for Queen's students.

To learn more about Stauffer Library, you can take a virtual tour.

Library Homepage

Queen's Library subscribes to over 650 specialized databases and article indexes, several hundred thousand electronic books, 80,000 electronic journals and newspapers, and has well over 2 million physical (non-electronic) items including over 1.65 million books. The Queen's University Library homepage is the gateway to the library's collections and research tools. [Tip: Bookmark the Library Homepage for easy future reference]

Among the research tools that one can access from the library homepage are:

  • Summon - simultaneously search the Queen's University Library catalogue (QCAT) and many of our electronic resources (electronic books, articles from journals, magazines and newspapers, theses and more) from a single search box
  • QCAT, the Queen's University Library catalogue
  • Databases - article indexes and research databases
  • Research by Subject - Library research guides consisting of highly recommended sources for each discipline, including Sociology)

[Library homepage]

Off-Campus Access

Access to the electronic subscription resources to which Queen's Library subscribes (such as article indexes and databases, ebooks and ejournals) is restricted to current Queen's students, staff and faculty. On campus (including in residence), you automatically have access, but from off-campus, in order to access the library's electronic resources you will need to log in to the Queen's web proxy service with your NetID and password. When you click on a subscription resource from off-campus, you will be prompted to login.

[Web Proxy login]

You can also login prior to beginning your research: from the Queen's Library homepage click the link "Connect from Off-Campus" to login.

[Connect from Off-Campus]

Research by Subject Guides

Library research subject guides are an important resource that will help you with your library research in every course you take at Queen's. These guides contain highly recommended research resources that support the study of a particular discipline. The Sociology Research Guide, for example, will direct you to recommended sources for background information and article databases for your research for Sociology 122.

Access the guides from the Research by Subject area on the library homepage. The Sociology Research Subject Guide can be found in the Social Sciences section:

[Research by Subject]

Tip: Bookmark the Sociology Research Subject Guide (and any other useful subject guides for the other courses you are taking) The Sociology Subject Guide

[Sociology Subject Guide]

3: Choosing Your Topic

Watch this short video produced by NCSU Libraries: Picking Your Topic is Research

As the video mentions, picking your topic is intertwined with finding and reading sources. When you first select a topic, it is just an idea that you test with some exploratory research. Let the published research help guide you in adjusting (narrowing or broadening) the scope of your topic.

Narrowing a Topic that is too Broad

You'll want to be sure that you select a topic that has a clear focus. A topic like "social movements" or “homelessness” is much too broad to cover meaningfully in a standard ten page paper.

Some common ways to narrow a topic that is too broad:

Expanding a Topic that is too Narrow

It is also possible to choose a topic that is too narrow, for which there may not be enough information published. In my experience, topics that are particularly difficult to research include:

In SOCY 122, the topic you choose for Assignment 1 (the annotated bibliography) will come from a reading of your choice from the provided list of readings on your course Moodle page. Your TA can talk with you about whether your topic idea is too narrow or too broad. Topics that take you into the literature produced by psychologists have been purposely avoided. The TAs have been instructed not to approve topics of the following nature: psychology, medical science, human/child development, self esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body image, mental health issues such as ADD or learning disabilities.

If the explanation you develop for your particular issue resides inside the person (biology, DNA, self esteem, anxiety, depression, aggression, chemical imbalance or any number of other internal processes of humans) then you are not using a sociological or social-psychological frame of reference. If the explanation you develop for your issue resides within the social structure (the economy, the workplace, the education system, the political structure or processes, culture, gender relations, race relations, etc.) then you are thinking in terms of a sociological frame of reference.

Finding Background Information

Develop Your Topic

Once you have identified your topic:

  • State the topic in the form of a specific statement or question.

  • Identify the main concepts, terms and keywords that describe your topic.

  • Start making a list of words to describe your topic.

Specialized encyclopedias and other reference materials such as dictionaries and handbooks are useful for obtaining background information on a topic, in addition to helping you focus your topic and identify the main concepts, terms and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the keywords used when searching various resources (such as the Library catalogue, article indexes and databases) for books and articles.

The Sociology Subject Guide contains a section on recommended Encyclopedias and Dictionaries, available in print and/or online, including the following resources which are particularly useful for your coursework in SOCY 122:

A note about Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a very popular online encyclopedia. With well over a million entries, chances are, if you've searched the web for a topic you've come across links to Wikipedia near the top of your search results list. Unlike specialized encyclopedias such as The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology, whose entries are written by noted experts in their particular field of sociology, Wikipedia is a collaborative effort with articles written by individuals from around the world using wiki software that allows content to be added or changed by anyone. Authors of articles may not necessarily be experts on the topics they write about, potentially leaving room for errors, misinformation, and bias.

There is no question that Wikipedia is a valuable and informative resource, however, there is an important concern to take into account when using it: Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity. Because anyone can add or change content, there is an inherent lack of reliability and stability to Wikipedia.  For more information, refer to Wikipedia's page on Researching with Wikipedia.

4: Search Strategies

When conducting research, the key to successful searching is not in the quantity of search results, but rather how relevant and appropriate they are to the topic. Whether you are searching the web with a search engine such as Google, or searching a research resource like Summon, the Library catalogue (QCAT) or another library database, there are some common search techniques that can be employed to improve the efficiency of the search results.

In this module, we will look at strategies for constructing an effective search in a library database. You will learn to create an effective search strategy using:

Choosing Relevant Search Terms

Example of a possible research question: Does the increase in use of video surveillance in public spaces contribute to the erosion of our privacy rights?

[Surveillance camera on Aberdeen Street during Homecoming Weekend 2006] Break down the topic into keywords and phrases:

video surveillance public spaces privacy rights
Now, think about whether there are other terms that could also be used to describe the topic, including synonyms, related terms, or words and phrases that have similar meaning:

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
electronic surveillance public privacy
closed circuit television urban civil liberties
CCTV   social control

Note: Most databases use American spelling, so, when applicable, you should search for both versions of a word
(e.g. labour, labor).

Connecting Keywords

Once you have identified the keywords and phrases that describe your topic, the next step is to connect them in a logical way that the database will understand - this is accomplished with the use of Boolean operators:
. Databases and many search engines including Google make use of Boolean operators. Understanding how databases interpret your keywords will allow you to execute more specific searches, thereby saving you time while retrieving more relevant results. A database's Help pages will indicate how to construct Boolean searches and which wildcards the database supports.

Used for
What it Does


when you want to find material containing two or more concepts

using AND between keywords means that both terms must appear somewhere in the record

narrows your search

A search for <surveillance AND social control> would only retrieve those documents containing both the word surveillance and the phrase "social control."

Example of boolean AND: surveillance AND social control



when you want to find material containing either or any of the keywords

use OR to combine synonyms and related terms

broadens your search

A search for <electronic surveillance OR closed circuit television> would retrieve information on either concept.

an example of Boolean OR: electronic surveillance OR closed circuit television



use NOT to exclude a concept or word from the search

use NOT sparingly, if at all, because you could end up excluding useful search results (e.g. articles or books that discuss both concepts)

narrows your search

A search for <public NOT private> would exclude any results which contain the word "private."



an example of Boolean NOT: public NOT private

Nested Searching

Whenever you have more than one Boolean operator, such as AND and OR, in a search statement, it is necessary to separate them with parentheses. This is known as a "nested searching." Here's an example:

(surveillance OR monitoring) AND ("crime prevention" OR "social control")

Nested searching tells the database the proper order in which to search for the keywords. Operations enclosed in parentheses are performed first followed by the operators outside the parentheses.


"electronic surveillance"
"closed circuit television"
"social control"

Rules about phrase searching vary from database to database. Some databases require them (without them an AND would be assumed, or worse, the database wouldn't be able to interpret your search), others supply them for you. The Help Screen of the database you are searching will indicate whether or not quotation marks are required.


In many library databases (including QCAT, the Library Catalogue) you can also use a truncation symbol to broaden a search. Truncation is like a shortcut. Placed at the end of the root of a word (or word stem), a truncation symbol tells the database to search for variant endings of the word, including plurals and singulars.

Truncation symbols vary between databases. In QCAT, the truncation symbol is a question mark (?), in the article database Sociological Abstracts (and many other databases), the symbol is an asterisk (*).

An example of a truncated search in QCAT would be:


An example of a truncated search in an article database such as Sociological Abstracts would be:


The database would interpret the search as teen, teens, teenagers, etc.

Be careful when using truncation as it can produce unintended results. For example, a search for cult* retrieves cult, cults, cultivated, culture, cultures, etc. Only truncate back as far as it would be useful and still on topic.

In the next module, we will apply these search techniques to searching QCAT for books and will briefly look at searching for books in Summon.

5: Finding Books

To find books in Queen's Library you can search QCAT. QCAT is the Queen's Library Online Catalogue. It is a searchable database that lists materials (books, journals, magazines, newspapers, videos, government documents, maps, microfilm and much more) found in all the libraries at Queen’s. QCAT also contains the names of the electronic resources to which Queen's Library subscribes, such as electronic journals and books. QCAT does not contain articles. To locate articles, use an index/article database or Summon.

In this module, we will look at three of the most commonly used search options for finding books: title, author, and keyword/keyword Boolean. We will examine the different parts of the library catalogue record, how to read a call number and how to locate a book in the Library. To wrap up this module, we will look at using Summon to locate books.

[Library books]

Searching QCAT

Access the Library Catalogue from the Queen's Library Homepage. Select QCAT Catalogue tab. Either enter your search terms in the search box provided and select the type of search you are doing, or click Full Catalogue for more choices.

[QCAT Catalogue tab]

You can search QCAT in several different ways including: by keyword, keyword Boolean, title keyword, title exact, journal title exact, author and subject heading. You can also limit your search to a specific format (for instance, Videos/DVDs/Streaming video).

[QCAT search]

  1. Enter your search in the Search box
  2. Select the type of search in the within box
  3. Click the Search box to begin searching

Book Title Search

When you know the exact title of the book (or other item) that you need, you can perform a title search.

[Book: Gendering the Vertical Mosaic] Here's an example of a reference (also known as a citation) to a book:

Hamilton, Roberta. 2004. Gendering the Vertical Mosaic. 2nd ed. Toronto: Pearson Prentice-Hall.

To locate this item in the Library Catalogue:

  • Enter title in the Search box
  • Select Title Exact in the within box
  • Click the Search box to begin searching

[QCAT search]

Tips for "Title Exact" Searches:

  • Omit initial articles (a, an, the, etc.)
  • Capitalization is not necessary
  • Exact word order is necessary, but you don’t need to enter the full title (which is especially useful when the title is very long).

Author Search

When you want to find out what Queen's Library owns by a particular author, or, if the title is common (for example, Introduction to Sociology), perform an author search.

A search for books written by the Karl Marx would be entered as follows:

[QCAT author search]

  • Enter the author’s name (last name, first name) in the Search box
  • Select Author in the within box
  • Click the Search box to begin searching
  • Click the author's name in the search results to be presented with the title or titles owned by the Library

[Karl Marx]

Tips for Author Searches:

  • Always type the last name of the author first, followed by a first name or initial
  • The name may be entered with or without the comma
  • Use a space for a hyphenated name
  • Capitalization is not necessary

Keyword Search

When searching for books on a topic, rather than for a specific title or author, search the Library catalogue using one of the keyword search options. Keywords are taken from many parts of the catalogue record including the title, author, subject headings and table of contents fields.

There are two keyword search options available in QCAT: keyword and keyword Boolean.

Keyword Boolean

A keyword search works much the same way as a search in a web search engine, where "AND" is assumed between your keywords. A keyword search using Boolean operators allows you to combine your search terms and get more precise results, and this is the type of keyword search this tutorial will address. Recall from Module 4, Search Strategies:

Use and to combine search terms and narrow results
Use or to expand search results by searching for two or more related concepts (or synonyms) simultaneously
Use not to narrow search results (you will recall from Module 4 that it is generally better to use "not" sparingly, if at all)
Truncate words by using ?: cultur? (finds culture, cultures, cultural, etc.)
Search phrases by using quotes: "social justice"
Group search terms by using parentheses: (child? or teen?) and "social inequality”

Example: a keyword boolean search in QCAT for material about what effect poverty has on the health of the elderly could be phrased as:

(poverty or poor) and (elderly or aging or aged) and health?

[QCAT keyword search]

Library Catalogue Record

So far in this module we have looked at how to do a title search, an author search, and a keyword Boolean search. Now, let's examine the catalogue record that is retrieved when you perform a search and select an item.

[Library Catalogue Record]

The Catalogue record provides you with citation information: author, title, publisher, place and date of publication. Status tells you if the book is available, Location tells you in which library the book is located, and call number tells you where the book is located on the Library's shelves. Before turning to an examination of how to read a call number, it is important to consider the Subjects assigned to an item.

Subject Headings

The subjects or subject headings assigned to a book are done so using a strict, controlled vocabulary. For this reason, subject headings are not always obvious, which is why a keyword search on your topic is recommended over a subject heading search. However, once you have located a book of interest through a title, author or keyword search, the subject headings become very useful. If a subject heading describes what you are looking for, click on it to find additional items on your topic, or use the subject headings to give you ideas for other words to use in your keyword searches.

Understanding Call Numbers

When you have located an item you want in the Library catalogue, it is important to record the call number, for the call number is like an address as to the exact location of the book on the Library's shelves.

[call number]

Call numbers in academic libraries are based on the Library of Congress (LC) Classification system. This A to Z classification scheme organizes books by main subject, so that books on similar topics will be shelved together. Once you have located the book you want on the Library’s shelves, you can browse the shelves in the same area for additional books on your topic. Clicking "show on floorplan" provides information about the library, floor, and general area where the item is shelved.

The following is a partial breakdown of the Library of Congress Subject classification for “H” Social Sciences:

Social Sciences (General) H
Statistics HA
Economic Theory HB
Sociology (General) HM
Social History, Social Problems, Social Reform HN
The Family. Marriage. Women HQ
Societies. Social Groups HS
Social Pathology. Criminology HV
Socialism. Communism. Anarchism. HX

Sociology, or HM, can be further broken down into subjects within the broader subject of sociology:

[Library of Congress]

Reading Call Numbers

The first letter of a call number represents one of the 21 major divisions of the Library of Congress Classification System. The subject "H" is General Social Sciences. The second letter "M" represents a subdivision of the social sciences, Sociology. All books classified in the HM's are primarily about Sociology.

  1. Books are shelved alphabetically by the first letter or letters
  2. Books are then arranged numerically by the number following the letter(s)
  3. Books are then shelved alphabetically by the next letter and decimally by the following number.


There are thousands of electronic books (or "e-books") available at Queen's Library. There are several ways you can locate them.

From within QCAT, you can limit your search to E-Books:


You can also search e-book subscription packages directly. The following collections are particularly useful for research in sociology:

You can also locate e-books (as well as print books) by using Summon, the library's search engine.

Searching for Books – Summon

Summon is the library’s search engine, which enables a simultaneous search of QCAT and many of the library’s online collections from a single search box. Summon contains everything found in QCAT, plus much online full-text content available from the Library including articles, journals, conference proceedings, digital primary source material, electronic books and newspapers, theses and dissertations, multimedia and more.

Access and search Summon from the search box on the library’s homepage:


Executing a basic search in Summon (which is also the default search on the library homepage) will return results that pick up your topic words anywhere in the item’s record (title, author, publisher, table of contents) and in the case of articles, somewhere in the article's full text.

Use the Advanced search option in Summon to execute a more precise search (eg. author, keywords in title, date range of publication, etc.), and/or apply a limit to what search results will be returned (such as format type, scholarly materials, items in QCAT only).

[Summon Advanced]

Summon Search Tips

  • Note that the Boolean operator OR has to be capitalized in Summon.
  • Use the facets on the left-hand side of the search results page to refine or narrow your search results. For instance, selecting Books (or E-Books) from the Content Type facet:

    [Content Type Facet]

  • Click the item title in your Summon result list to enter the QCAT record for the item.

This concludes Module 5: Finding Books. We now turn out attention to finding articles using library databases.

6: Finding Articles

In Module 5, we looked at searching QCAT, the Library catalogue, to find books by author, title and topic keywords. In addition, we considered how Summon can be used to locate books. In this module, we turn to finding articles - specifically scholarly journal articles.

In this module we will address: 

Current Journals in Stauffer Library, 2nd Floor

Types of Articles

Articles are one of the best sources of information on any given topic. They can contain news, detailed analysis, or the results of a scientific study. Issued "periodically" in daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or irregular intervals, articles are found in a variety of publications including journals, magazines and newspapers. These publications can be in print and/or online. The second floor of Stauffer library contains the print journals (both current and bound volumes) to which the library subscribes. Current paper newspapers can be found by the Writing Centre on the main floor of the library.  The library subscribes to many more online journals, magazines and newspapers.

[scholarly journals] [popular magazines] [newspapers]

Articles in scholarly journals are a critical source of authoritative information, as they contain the results of original academic research or experimentation. Scholarly journals are also referred to as "academic," "peer-reviewed," or "refereed" journals. Using scholarly or peer-reviewed journal articles is frequently a requirement in many course assignments, including those in SOCY 122.

For an explanation of the major distinctions between newspapers, popular magazines and scholarly journals consult this table.

Characteristics of Newspapers, Magazines and Journals



Popular Magazines
(popular, general interest, news)

Scholarly Journals


To provide information on current events.
Local and regional focus.

To inform or entertain readers on general interest topics in broad subject fields.

Report on original research or experimentation.


journalists on staff or freelance writers.

staff or freelance writers

scholar/expert within an academic field or discipline


Newspaper editor reviews submitted articles.

Magazine editor reviews submitted articles.

Experts in the field review articles submitted for publication. Publications that undertake this editorial process are also known as peer-reviewed or refereed publications.

Intended Audience

General public

General public

Professors, researchers, college and university students


Simple, non-technical, easy to understand

Some simple, others more demanding but still easy to understand, but still non-technical

Specialized vocabulary of the discipline.


Black and white, some colour, containing many photographs and illustrations

Slick, glossy, contain photographs and illustrations

Shorter articles.

Serious look. Plain, black and white, containing charts, graphs, and tables.

Lengthy articles and academic level book reviews.



Contain extensive advertising

Contain extensive advertising

Selective advertising. Few ads, usually for publications or services in the discipline


Commercial publishers

Frequency varies but usually daily.

Commercial publishers.

Usually published weekly or monthly.

Scholarly presses
Academic/research organizations.

Published monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.


Usually do not cite. Sources sometimes quoted in article text.

Usually do not cite. Sources sometimes quoted in article text.

Extensive documentation.
Bibliographies or references included.


New York Times
The Guardian
Globe and Mail
Ottawa Citizen


American Journal of Sociology Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology
Social Networks


Journal Title Search, Known Article or Journal

When you are looking for a specific journal article

In the course of your research you will undoubtedly come across articles you want to locate through the reference lists in the course textbook, encyclopedias and other readings you may have done. A reference to an article has two titles: title of the article and title of the periodical (journal, magazine or newspaper) in which the article is published. The following is a sample citation in ASA (American Sociological Association) style:

Jones, Robert Alun. 1986. "Durkheim, Frazer, and Smith: the Role of Analogies and Exemplars in the Development of Durkheim’s Sociology of Religion." American Journal of Sociology 92 (3): 596-627.

When you have a citation to an article you want to locate there are a variety of options for locating it.

  1. You can search Summon by placing quotation marks around the title of the article and adding in the author's name and title of the periodical if necessary.  Summon doesn't include everything, so if you don't find the article in Summon try steps 2 or 3 below.
  2. You can search QCAT for the title of the journal/magazine/ newspaper in which the article appears (but not for the title or author of the article) by performing a Journal Title search.

    [Journal title search]

  3. You can also use the Journals A-Z tab on the library homepage to determine whether or not Queen's library has a subscription to the journal you are looking for:

    From the Library Homepage, select the Journals A-Z tab, enter the name of the journal (american journal of sociology) in the journal title box and click Search. Keeping the default set to "online and print" will maximize your chances of finding the journal subscription.

    [Journal title search]

    Tips for Finding Journals at Queen's Library
    • Journals can be found on microfilm, paper or online in full text.
    • If the journal is available in print, note the holdings (the dates the Library owns) and the call number. At Stauffer Library journals (both current and bound) are located on the 2nd floor.
    • If the Library has a subscription to an online edition, note the dates of coverage. In many cases, there is more than one database that contains the full text of the journal, but seldom is there overlap with the date of coverage
    • To access the online edition, click on the link.
    • Note: Connecting to any electronic resource (such as electronic journals or databases) from off-campus requires signing in through the Queen's web proxy service.  You will be prompted to login prior to being able to access the journal.

Article Indexes & Databases

Often when you are doing research you don't have an article or book title in mind, rather, you have a topic. The best resources to use for locating articles on a topic are the Library's indexes and article databases.

An index is a list of citations to material (such as journal articles, book chapters, conference papers and other key information sources in your research) arranged by subject, author or title. It can be in print or electronic format.
A database is an organized collection of electronic records presented in a standardized format, searchable in a variety of ways, such as by title, author, subject, and keyword. Examples include the Queen's Library catalogue and the various citation, abstract and full text databases to which Queen's Library subscribes.

As these research tools have a common purpose (to allow you to locate articles) the two terms are often used interchangeably.

The Library subscribes to hundreds of online article indexes and databases (over 650 databases at last count) on a wide range of subjects. The content varies from database to database - many contain full text articles, others contain videos, images and music. For most databases, publisher licensing agreements with Queen's University restrict access to members of the Queen's community. That is why off-campus access to most Library databases and electronic journals is restricted to Queen's students, faculty and staff. To access these resources from off-campus, log in to the desired electronic resource by entering your Queen's NetID and password when prompted. More information about the Queen's "Connect from Off-Campus Service" is available at

Another important point about subscription Library databases is that they contain content/information (citations or full text articles, for example) that is not freely available through other search tools such as web search engines like Bing, Google and Yahoo. Subscription databases also provide a variety of search options including the ability to limit to scholarly journal content and full text. Frequently discipline specific databases, such as Sociological Abstracts, also provide a thesaurus, which enables the searcher to locate citations based on a controlled vocabulary (which is much more specific than a keyword search). As such, these types of library subscription databases are your primary gateway to the scholarly literature in your field.

Selecting a Database

From the Library Homepage there are several ways to find an article index or database that covers the literature of your discipline.  The Library Research Guide for Sociology provides a list of recommended article databases. When you know what type of information you are looking for (articles, books, websites, etc.) the Research Guide is an excellent starting point. 

When you know the name of the database you wish to search, you can conveniently get there by clicking on the Databases tab on the library homepage.  From the Databases tab enter the title of the database in the "Title contains" box and click Search: 

[Selecting a database]

Select More Database Options if you would like to browse all databases or browse by subject area.

Once you have located a database to search, you can click on the "more information"  link to read important information about the database's contents (e.g. date and subject coverage, type of material indexed, whether it contains citations or full text content, etc.).

Sociological Abstracts

There are a number of journal article databases useful for research in sociology. As they index different journals (as well as other material) it is often a good idea to search more than one.

[Sociological Abstracts logo]

Sociological Abstracts provides access to the international literature in sociology and related disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences. The database provides abstracts of journal articles and citations to book reviews drawn from over 1,800 periodicals, and also provides abstracts of books, book chapters, theses, and conference papers. Coverage dates from 1952 to present.

Searching for Articles in Sociological Abstracts

To make it easier for you to follow along if you would like to do your own search of Sociological Abstracts, the links in this section will open in a new browser window.

IMPORTANT: Off-campus users must use the Webproxy service to access this database.

To Access: 

From the Library’s homepage select the Databases tab. In the Title contains box, type sociological abstracts and click search.

[Selecting a database]

Click on the database title to enter, or click on the "more information" link to read about the subject and date coverage.

[Selecting a database]

Connecting Keywords

Once you have clicked on the link to enter the database, you are presented with the Advanced Search Screen, which enables you to enter a combination of search terms separated by AND or OR:

[Advanced Search screen: Note the boolean operators AND and OR, as well as the parentheses]

The same keyword search strategies that are used when searching for books in QCAT are also used when searching electronic databases like Sociological Abstracts. Before we search the database, let's review these keyword search strategies:

1. use Boolean operators to describe the relationship between words or groups of words

Operator What it Does
AND narrows your search because both words (or phrases) "ANDed" together must appear somewhere in the record
OR broadens your search because "ORing" two words (or phrases) searches for either word or phrase somewhere in the record
NOT narrows you search by excluding the word following "NOT"

2. Nested searching with parentheses ( ) : In Sociological Abstracts, the parentheses are already applied (they precede and follow the two search terms boxes that are separated with the word OR).
3. Truncation: Use this to search for variant endings such as plurals. In Sociological Abstracts, the truncation character is an *
4. Phrases " ": To have the database search for your words as a phrase only, rather than finding each word separately, use quotation marks


The default search is all fields (keyword). This means you can enter your search terms in the boxes provided and the database will retrieve all citations that have your search terms anywhere in the record (title, author, abstract, journal title, subjects etc.).

Enter your topic keywords in the search boxes. For example, if I were looking for articles on the income gap between men and women, my keywords to begin with could be:

"pay gap" OR "income gap"
gender OR women

Entered into the database it would look like this:

search for: pay gap or income gap AND gender or women

You can adjust the default setting from Anywhere to Abstract, which will return results that are more on topic because your search words must appear in the abstract (or summary) of the item, as opposed to anywhere in the item record. You can limit your search results to peer reviewed (scholarly), apply a publication date range limit, restrict your source type to scholarly journals and so forth.  If you are searching for scholarly journal articles (which is often what is required in your coursework) it is very convenient to be able to restrict your search results to only the type of research that you want to examine. Once you have applied the search options, click the Search button.

Viewing Results

The database will return a list of citations that match your search terms:

Search results

If you didn't apply any search limits (such as to peer reviewed) on the Advanced Search screen when you initiated your search, you can filter your results using the Narrow results by facets to the left of your search results.

Narrow your search results


Article Record

When you locate a citation that looks relevant to your topic, click on the Preview document link (or the title of the article) to read the abstract (summary) of the article:

[Article Preview]

If the article interests you, you can click on the link to the Abstract/Details to learn more about the article and the source it was published in. The subject terms of particularly useful - not only do they provide a succinct snapshot of what the article is about, you can use the subject terms in new searches. 

From Abstract (summary) view you can also email/save/print the selected search result.

Clicking the Cite link will provide you with an option to create an ASA style citation for the article. As with all databases that create citations in your specified style, always consult an official style guide to confirm the accuracy of your citations:

[Example of an ASA style citation being created by the database]

Thus far in this section of the Finding Articles module, we have looked at constructing a keyword search in Sociological Abstracts, viewing the search results and the article record. Next, we will examine how to determine if the library has access to the full text of the article.

Locating the Full Text

In some cases, the availability of the full text of an article will be obvious - you will see a link to the full text in the database record:

Full text is readily available when you see a PDF

When you don't see a link to the full text, look for the Get It! Button:

An example of a citation with a Get It! Button


Get It button

When you see the Get It! button you can click it to see if the Library has the full text of the article through another database or electronic journal subscription.

Get it Screen

  • At the top of the screen is the citation information for the item.
  • If the full text is available online, there will be a link to the article or to the database(s) that contains it. The "article link" is better as clicking it should take you directly to the article. The link to the journal will take you to the journal within a database, where you would then have to locate the article within the journal.
  • If there is no link to the electronic version, you can click on the "Check for a print copy in our library catalogue" to see if a print copy of the journal article is available. If the article is available in print at Queen's Library, confirm that the specific volume and year is available and record the location and call number of the journal. Be sure to record the citation information to the article as well.

Many, but not all, Library databases have the Get It! service. If you don't see a link to the full text (in either HTML or PDF), and there isn't a Get It! button, search QCAT for the name of the journal to determine if Queen's owns a copy.

Multidisciplinary Databases

Multidisciplinary databases cover a range of subject areas.  If your topic does not fall neatly into one subject area, or if you would like different perspectives on your topic, these general databases can be a good place to start your research. The library has produced a subject guide to Multidisciplinary Databases in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Recall that the fastest way to access a database when you know the title of it is to click on the Databases tab on the library homepage, enter the name of the database and click search. Alternately, you can also access multidisciplinary databases by clicking the Databases tab, then More Database Options, and select Multidisciplinary from the Databases by Subject list. Two useful multidisciplinary databases that are contained in this tab are:

  • Academic Search Complete
  • Google Scholar

[Selecting a database]

Academic Search

Academic Search Complete

As mentioned earlier, if you know the name of the database you wish to search, you can enter it from the Databases tab. From the Library Homepage, choose Databases tab and in the "Title contains" box type: Academic Search Complete. Click Search: 

[Database Tab - Academic Search Complete database]

Academic Search Complete is a multi-disciplinary index (with abstracts) to more than 10,900 publications including peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, monographs and reports. Approximately 50% of the journal titles also contain the full-text of articles. If the full text of the article is not available in the database itself, click the "Get it at Queen's" icon to search for the article's availability through Queen's Library subscriptions.

Although it is on a different platform from Sociological Abstracts, the search principles remain the same. Related topic words are entered in each search box, separated by default with the Boolean operator AND. Using the dropdown arrows, you can switch the default AND to OR or NOT. AND is usually the preferred setting:


[Academic Search Complete interface]


Module 5: Finding Books included a section on searching Summon to locate useful books on your subject, however Summon can also be very useful for finding articles on your topic. Use the facets, particularly the option to “limit to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review” to refine your search results:

[Summon search box]

[Refine your search] [Refine your search] [Refine your search]

More information about Summon.

Google Scholar

[Google Scholar] While the indexes and databases provided to you by the Library are the best resources to use for finding scholarly journal articles, Google Scholar can be a useful search tool to supplement your research.

About Google Scholar

Google Scholar ( is Google's scholarly search engine.  Google Scholar searches for scholarly materials including journal articles, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from a variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.

Points to Consider

Coverage appears to be strongest in science and technology, and weakest in the humanities. There isn't a way to focus your search on sociological materials (unlike when you search one of the library's specialized article databases such as Sociological Abstracts), and Google Scholar only includes articles that are indexed within its database, which is a much smaller subset of scholarly articles than found in some of the databases subscribed to by Queen's Library. In some cases the content is freely available in full text, while in other instances abstracts with links to pay-for document delivery services are displayed.

Scholar Preferences

[Scholar Preferences] Click on the Settings "gear" located in the upper right hand corner of the Google Scholar search page to view Scholar Preferences (several preferences you can set and save). When searching Google Scholar from on-campus, the Library Links preference will already be set to allow for the Get it at Queen's service (recall that this service links citations in research databases to full-text articles or to the Library Catalogue or to other related web services provided by Queen's University Library).

IMPORTANT: To have these features activated when searching Google Scholar from off-campus, access Google Scholar through the Database tab on the library homepage and enter your NetID and password when prompted.

7: Searching the Web

In this module, we will briefly examine some of the features of web search engines that allow you to construct more effective searches, and we will look at ways of finding quality websites for your research. Critically evaluating the information you find on the Web is absolutely essential; anyone with access to a computer can make a website and content is usually unmonitored. We will look at the criteria for evaluating sources, including websites, in the next module, Using Information.

Effective Searches

In Module 4: Search Strategies, we looked at search techniques for constructing an effective search in a library database. You can apply some of these same search techniques when you are using a search engine - namely:

  • use search terms that specifically define your topic
  • connect keywords with Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) if supported by the search engine
  • use quotation marks to indicate a phrase

Let's look at how Google supports Boolean operators (if you use a search engine other than Google, go there now and look at its Advanced Search screen). Here is Google's Advanced Search:

[Advanced Google Search]

  • All of the words is equivalent to "AND" (in other words, search terms are automatially "ANDed" together)
  • With the exact phrase is the phrase search
  • With at least one of the words is equivalent to "OR"
  • Without the words is equivalent to "NOT"

You can refer to the Best Search Tools Chart for a description on Boolean and other search options available in other popular search engines and Web search tools.

Subject Directories

Finding Quality Websites

A useful starting point when you are trying to locate authoritative websites is to consult the Library's Subject Guides. Each Subject Guide contains a list of recommended websites in a particular subject. The Sociology Subject Guide, for example, contains a selective list of useful websites for sociology.

Subject Directories
Subject directories are large indexes of reviewed websites. While not as large as search engines, these subject directories are created by human editors who review and select sites for inclusion in their directories on the basis of previously determined selection criteria. Two of the most popular academic subject directories are ipl2 and Infomine. Try browsing by subject (e.g. sociology) or search using broad subject keywords.

  ipl2 Infomine

For more information about recommended search engines and subject directories, and for more information about searching the Web, consult the Library's Search the Web guide.

8: Using Information

Up until now, we have primarily been focussing on how to find books and journal articles through the Library's resources. In this module we will look at two very important aspects in the research process that occur after you have located a piece of information (book, journal article or website): evaluating and citing sources.

Evaluating Sources

Carefully evaluate each source you find to determine if it is appropriate for your research. Previously, we discussed how academic journal articles can be distinguished from other types of periodicals. Here is a checklist for criteria used to judge information sources, particularly books.

Evaluating Sources Checklist

Purpose Why was the resource written? Was the author's purpose to inform, persuade, or to refute a particular idea or point of view?
Audience Is the resource intended for the general public, scholars, professionals,etc.
Authority What are the author's qualifications? Consider author's educational background, past writings and experience. Is the author associated with an organization or institution? Who is the publisher? Are they well known? Does any group control the publishing company?
Accuracy Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? Facts can be usually verified. Opinions evolve from the interpretation of facts. Are the author's conclusions or facts supported with references?
Timeliness When was the information published? Is the date of publication appropriate for your topic?
Coverage Is it relevant to your topic? Is the topic covered in depth, partially or is it an broad overview? Does the resource add new information, update other sources or substantiate other resources that you have consulted?
Objectivity Does the author present multiple viewpoints or is it biased? How do critical reviews rate the work?

Evaluating Web Sources

As was mentioned in Module 7: Searching the Web, it is important to evaluate the sources you find on the Web, because Web pages can be produced by anyone. Here is a checklist of criteria to think about when you are searching the Web:

Evaluating Web Sources Checklist

Audience Is the level of the website appropriate for university-level research?
Author Can you determine the author of the information? Is the author
recognized as an expert on the topic? Is there contact information
on the page?
Content Is the information accurate? Is this an opinion piece? Does the site provide documentation, such as references, for the information provided? Is the information presented in an objective manner?
Are all sides of an issue represented, or is it biased?

Can you determine when this information was created or published?
Are the links valid? Is it current enough for your research?

Publisher Can you tell who the publisher of the information is? What is the site's domain
and what does that tell you about the publisher?

Citing Sources

Throughout the research process it is important for you to keep track of your information sources. Fortunately, many of the electronic databases you will be using (including QCAT) offer you the option to download, print or email the citations to the material you find. This is a great way to keep track of the information you're considering.

Citing sources is a key part of your research: it documents what sources you have used in writing your paper and gives credit to an author's work that you have used. It also gives information to identify and retrieve the cited sources.

ASA Style Guide

There are many citation styles available and the preferred style varies between disciplines. Based on the American Sociological Association Style Guide, the Department of Sociology has produced its own ASA Style Guide Style and Reference Guide for Undergraduate Essays. Refer to this Style and Reference Guide for information on how to cite different types of material and how to reference an author's ideas.

Citation Management

Information about web-based reference management available to all Queen's students, faculty and staff, supporting thousands of citation styles. Be sure to check over your citations to ensure that they meet the Department of Sociology's requirements.

Plagiarism is a serious offense. Citing your sources is one way to avoid plagiarism. To test your knowledge of plagiarism and how to avoid it, try this interactive tutorial created by Vaughan Memorial Library, Acadia University:

You Quote It, You Note It!

9: Conclusion

This concludes the Introduction to Academic Library Research at Queen's University tutorial for SOCY 122. You are now ready to embark on your own library research armed with some useful search techniques and strategies. Remember there is help available if you get stuck at any point along the way.

Library Quiz

Now that you have completed this tutorial you are ready for the Library Quiz. A copy of the quiz can be found in your SOCY 122 Moodle site.


Getting Help

With this Tutorial

If you have questions about this tutorial, please contact me:

Sylvia Andrychuk, Librarian for Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Philosophy and Sociology

With Research

If you need help with research while you're in Stauffer Library, come by the Help Desk on the main floor. Help is available during these hours.

If you need help when you're off campus, you can contact Stauffer Reference Librarians via phone or email.

If you need help with a complex, in-depth research question you may contact me to arrange an appointment. Include details regarding your assignment and what research you have done so far in your search for information.


Stauffer Library