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Sociological Research: Internet Research

A quick guide to sociological research methods for collecting and evaluating information on your topic.

Evaluating Websites

Sociology often deals with controversial topics of interest to various political, professional, or religious organizations. In the realm of the Internet, there are no controls preventing people from posting false or misleading information about a topic of interest to them.  Because of this, it is especially important to evaluate websites carefully to determine if they reflect a particular point-of-view or "side." A good website will tell you about the person or organization who created it and their authority to write on the subject. 

If a website is not from a well-known and respected organization or educational institution, do some research into its creators’ credentials. If they have a particular agenda—beyond simply sharing information—carefully consider if and how you will use the source in your research. Websites with a strong position can be useful for describing the beliefs and rhetoric of parties on both sides of a contentious issue. However, they are not a good source for accurate and objective information.   

Remember when you are on the Internet it is "Buyer Beware"!

 

More Tips

In general, you are looking for sites that are:

  • Authoritative (written by experts in the field)
  • Well documented (include references/links to scholarly articles and websites)
  • Current (regularly updated)
  • Functional (easy to navigate, searchable)

Questions to consider:

  • What is the domain suffix?
    • The “gov” and “edu” suffixes can only be used by government entities and institutions of higher education, respectively.  While “org” is generally used by non-profit organizations, anyone can register a site with this suffix.
  • Do you recognize the publisher of the website? Can you easily find information about this entity? 
  • Can you easily locate any "About," "Mission," or "Philosophy" statements?
  • Do these express a clear political or ideological position?

If you're still not sure:

  • Search for info about the website and its authors in Google
  • Check out who links to the site (Google search: link: URL)
  • Check it out in Alexa.com (reviews, traffic, links, etc)
  • Find info on who owns the site at WhoIs.net

Need more info? Check out UC Berkeley’s Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques & Questions to Ask

TIP: SourceWatch is a wiki where information on organizations seeking to influence public policy is posted by interested contributors. Often the information is well documented but, like all web sources, needs to be double-checked.

Using the Internet

Be sure to check out the sidebar for information on how to evaluate websites!  

Sites about Sociology

There are several excellent meta-sites for sociology. These sites provide links to institutions and academic departments, sources of biographical and theoretical information, survey and statistical resources and much more.

Google Tips

Google searching is easy, but by learning a few search techniques, you can make your search more productive. In general, try to keep searches as simple as possible. Think of what words are most likely to be used. As you conduct your searches, you will learn new terms--key words and phrases that insiders use to discuss the topic--and your searches will yield better results.   

  • Google automatically assumes "and" between terms.
  • Use OR to suggest alternate terms. Use () to set an individual search.  For example, (dog OR cat) (black OR white).
  • Use quotes around a definite phrase or an exact term, like "literature review"
  • Use a + directly before a word or phrase so that your exact keyword appears in the results.  
  • You can restrict by domain.  For example sociology site:edu will return only sites with a .edu domain.
  • Use a - to exclude certain words or sites from your search.  If you want to learn about the center of peaches, but not the hangout spot from the show 90210, you would search peach pit -90210.     

You can search the full text of books in:

Google Books

Use Google Books for digitized books from major publishers and universities. Only those out of copyright (75 years old or more) are fully accessible; others are only partially accessible but often you can see enough to get real information or at least determine whether you want to request the complete work.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is gradually becoming a more accepted site for information, particularly for a quick review to get started. (It is almost never listed as a reference.) Watch to see that an article is well-documented and follow the adage "trust but verify." The American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association have projects to improve articles in their disciplines.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a search tool from Google, separate from its main search engine, with its own URL (http://scholar.google.com). According to Google, its purpose is “to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research.”

Google Scholar is an excellent resource. Its strengths are that it is multidisciplinary, easy to search and provides a quick way to locate articles which cite other articles. For example, you can see where an article has been cited by clicking the "Cited by" link at the bottom of the item entry.  For certain articles, Google Scholar will link to cited articles through Web of Science.   

A word of caution, however: Google Scholar does not always connect to Emory sources. A book or journal article may be in the library even if you cannot access it through Google Scholar links. Never purchase an item without checking the library's resources first. Remember, you can also borrow items from other libraries for free.  You can read more about searching effectively in Google Scholar here.  

Finally, in some cases you might find it useful to follow a particular author whose work is especially relevant to your own. Depending on how you set up your preferences, you'll receive an email alert when the author publishes a new article and/or when someone else cites his or her work.  You can learn more about following a public scholar profile here.

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