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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sociology 480: Methods of Field Research: Qualitative Methods: Constructing a Database Search

Quick Tip- Finding Qualitative Research

  • Looking for articles written ABOUT research methods? (ie. critiques and reviews of research methodologies; how-tos and best practices) Search for the name of the method in the Subject/Descriptor field (may want to use the database's thesaurus to find the term that database uses).
  • Looking for research articles that used a certain research method to collect data? Search for the name of the method in the Keyword field.


Looking for articles discussing interpretation of focus group data?- search for "focus group" or "focus groups" in Subject/Descriptor field

Looking for a research article that used focus groups to collect data? - search for "focus group" or "focus groups" in Keyword field

State research question and select search terms

  • State your research topic as a thesis statement or a question:
    the effects of unemployment on domestic violence
  • Identify the separate concepts that make up your topic; put phrases in quotation marks:
    unemployment; "domestic violence"
  • Make a list of search terms for each concept. Be sure to include synonyms, related terms, and terms that may be broader or narrower:
    unemployment:  unemployed, jobless, "employment status"
    "domestic violence":  "family violence", "child abuse", "intimate abuse"

Plan your search strategy

Based on your list(s) of search terms, devise your search strategy:

  • use quotation marks to group two or more words into phrases:
    "drug use", "drug abuse", "illegal drugs"
  • use boolean operator OR; this tells the computer to search for all the terms at the same time:
    unemployment or jobless; "domestic violence" or "family violence"

    unemployment or jobless


  • use boolean operator AND; this tells the computer to restrict retrieval to both concepts:
    unemployment and "domestic violence"

unemployment and "domestic violence"

  • use truncation (*) to broaden your search to include variants of a term:
    unemploy* will retrieve unemployed, unemployment, unemployable