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Sociology and Social Studies: Databases

Database Search Tips


Although databases differ in specific detail depending on their software, there are common features. Most provide for some type of truncation or wild card to find word variations, but the symbol may differ: an asterisk (*), question mark (?), or colon (:) are often used. Limiting by element such as language, date, format, field (author, title, subject, classification code, etc.) is usually available. Parentheses are used to group ideas. Boolean logic (the use of AND, OR and NOT to refine searches) is probably the most effective feature.


AND requires all specified words to appear in each document

          e.g. globalization AND poverty
                  welfare AND inequality


OR    requires any of the specified words to appear in each document

         e.g. international trade OR global econom*
                 Indian* OR aboriginal* OR native* OR indigenous OR First Nation*


NOT  excludes terms not desired

          e.g. Latin Americ* NOT Mexic*


Combining ideas

       e.g. women AND (third world OR developing countries)
              (free trade) AND (labo* union* OR trade union*) AND (Latin America* OR South America*)


  •         prioritize your concepts to begin your search with the most important one
  •         consider additional concepts to use, if necessary, to reduce or expand retrieval
  •         if the database has a thesaurus, either online or print, check for suggested terms


Not enough material?

  •           if you have combined several concepts using AND, start again and search only the most important one. Then add the next most important   one, and so forth
  •           look at each concept and see if you can think of additional synonyms (use OR)
  •           if you are searching free-text, look at your terms carefully and think of ways to broaden your phrasing


Too much material?

  •         look at a sample of the items retrieved; if a high proportion is not relevant, add another concept
  •         sometimes irrelevant records may be eliminated by NOTing out a particular aspect or population
  •         try limiting by language, date, form of material, particular field instead of free-text

Selected Databases

Canadian News and Information Resources

The following links are a very good place to start if you are looking for reports and discussion on Canadian events.  Although the majority of these resources are not peer reviewed you will find them helpful to illustrate other peer reviewed articles in order to give your research arguments a "real world" feel to them.

International Research Questions

For social research on questions of an international nature.