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Sociology: Research Methods & Evaluating Sources

Use this Guide to help start your research in Sociology

Evaluating Sources

Google and Academic Databases

Google, and more appropriately Google Scholar, can be valid places to search for articles and organizations. However, subject specific databases will have more advanced search options and articles. Here are some key differences between databases and Google.

  Library Databases Google Google Scholar
Types of
Information
You Can Find
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Reviews
  • Theses & dissertations
  • Empirical evidence
  • Popular, commercial, educational websites
  • Organization websites
  • Directories
  • Current news & events
  • Few free journal articles
    & books (many academic publications are not free)
  • Educational websites
  • Theses & dissertations
  • Conference publications
    & presentations
  • Scholarly journal articles
    (but access will be restricted
    to free resources,
    see below for how to set
    up SLC links)
Credibility & Review
  • Subject specific books
    and articles
  • Evaluated for accuracy
    and credibility
  • Lack of control allows
    anyone to publish
    material
  • Usually not evaluated for accuracy & credibility
  • Some resources evaluated
    for accuracy & credibility,
    but not through Google,
    so need to verify review process for each publication
Discovery
  • Database functionalities
    allow users to search
    for & find more relevant results
  • Less ability to search
    for & retrieve precise
    results
  • Not releasing 
    information on
    algorithms, paid
    products can float
    to the top
  • Less ability to search for
    & retrieve precise results
  • Not releasing information
    on algorithms, therefore
    it is not known why
    results float to the top

 

Conducting Primary Research

Primary research refers to your original research, specifically the information that you collect and analyze from the field. This includes conducting interviews, designing surveys, and observations. Use this page and check out the Purdue link below to learn more. 

Primary & Secondary Sources: Sociology

An Oral History, a primary source, is a recorded interview of a personal experience. Interviews are what make up an oral history, but they are not mutually exclusive. Check out the links below to learn more about conducting interviews and oral histories.

Books and journal articles are typically going to be about a specific topic or event, and are secondary sources. Looking for books and articles on sociology? Check out the Books & Articles tab on this guide for more information.

Questionnaires and surveys can help you collect information from specific population groups in a much more structured manner than an interview.

A questionnaire is a set of questions with a choice of answers used for a survey. A survey can be used to gather information about a specific topic or issue.

There are many different ways that you can conduct a survey; check out the sources listed below to learn more.

Letters and diaries are more personal primary sources and can provide valuable insight to an event.  They are often associated with historical research, but can be useful in sociological research as well (think email correspondence!).  To search for letters or diaries, try using terms like correspondence, personal narratives, description and travel, letters, autobiography, or notebooks. If you are searching for the correspondence of a specific person, you might also find that there is an archival collection of their papers.

Newspapers and magazines deliver information on events from the time in which they took place, making them primary sources. But, newspaper and magazine articles that cite additional data or studies, would be considered a secondary source. See our guide on Finding Resources: Newspapers to learn more about accessing newspapers at Sarah Lawrence College Library and beyond.

Statistics and data are considered primary sources in fields like sociology. They are primary because they are the raw materials from which scholars in the field will draw their own analysis and conclusion. Looking for data-sets to work with? Check out the Finding Data & Data Resources page on this guide.

Primary and Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

  • A direct source from a particular event; a first-hand account from someone who was involved in an event; a work that was created during the time period studied.

  • A diary, newspapers from the time an event took place, a personal letter or correspondence.

CHINESE CRUSH FOE IN CHIHKIANG ZONE. (1945, May 11). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/107140388?accountid=13701

What is a Secondary Source?

  • Uses primary sources to make an argument or provide an analysis; not from the direct time of the event that it is describing.

  • Criticisms, commentaries, a document that reviews or interprets a previous event or findings.

Can a Source be Primary and  Secondary?

Simply put, yes. For example a documentary about World War II could be used as both a primary or secondary source. It could be used as a primary source if it has first-hand accounts or if you are studying the art of documentary. It could also be used as a secondary source because it uses primary source material to analyze an event. 

 

Not sure if what you are looking at is primary or secondary?