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Research Methods for Social Sciences

WISE Search box

What is WISE and how can I use it?

WISE is the Library's search engine, it searches:

  • Everything we have in the building
  • Everything we pay to have access to online
  • A lot of stuff we don't have, but can get for you through a service called Inter-Library Loan (ILL)


WISE is a user-friendly, all-in-one search tool, but is important to know when to use WISE, and when you may be better served by using the Library's other electronic resources. 

  • Print books and eBooks: WISE is the only place you can search our print book collection.  WISE is also the most convenient place to search our eBook collection.
  • Known items: If you know the exact book, journal, article, DVD, or other item you want, WISE will quickly show you if Westminster College owns or has access to that item.  If that item is not available through Westminster College, WISE provides an easy way to place an ILL request.
  • First-year or intro-level studies: WISE is the most user-friendly, all-in-one search option available and provides an adequate amount of relevant, appropriate sources for basic research needs.
  • Interdisciplinary research: WISE contains materials from all subjects taught on campus. Use WISE when you want Interdisciplinary (from many subjects) resources..

Use the Online Journals and Reference Sources page for:

  • Discipline-specific research: Searching specific databases (e.g., PsycINFO, SciFinder, ScienceDirect, MLA International Bibliography) is a better search strategy for more in-depth, advanced research.These databases allow for tailored search strings and provide citation tools.
  • Other types of electronic sources:
    • Newspapers:  U.S. Major Dailies, NY Times, Nexis Uni
    • Reference: Credo, Oxford, SAGE
    • Discipline-based: Birds of the World, Mergent Online
    • Streaming: Video (Kanopy, Swank) and music (NAXOS)
    • Primary Sources
    • and more!

Scholarly Resources

Below are a number of resources you can use to find scholarly sources.

Here are a few multidisciplinary databases where you can begin your research:

These databases are specific to Sociology, Political Science, and Criminal Justice. These will help you to consult the literature in specific fields, including detailed case studies and data analysis.

"Since 1932, Annual Reviews has offered comprehensive, timely collections of critical reviews written by leading scientists....Each year, Annual Reviews critically reviews the most significant primary research literature to guide researchers to the principal contributions of their field and help them keep up to date in their area of research."

You can search dozens of field specific Annual Reviews including the Annual Review of Sociology, the Annual Review of Political Science, the Annual Review of Criminology, and the Annual Review of Law and Social Science by selecting the specific publication from the menu before you click Search.

Here are just a few of the major datasets for use in your research.

If you cannot find what you are looking for using one of the below resources, please contact John Garrison, the Librarian in charge of electronic resources, for assistance.

  • ICPSR—An international consortium of 750+ academic and research organizations, ICPSR maintains a data archive of more than 250,000 files of research in the social and behavioral sciences. It hosts 21 specialized collections of data in education, aging, criminal justice, substance abuse, terrorism, and other fields.
  •—Open data collected and maintained by the U.S. Government
  • Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)
  • The General Social Survey (GSS)—​​​For more than four decades, the General Social Survey (GSS) has studied the growing complexity of American society. It is the only full-probability, personal-interview survey designed to monitor changes in both social characteristics and attitudes currently being conducted in the United States.
  • Pew Research Center
  • United States Census Bureau
  • National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—A set of surveys designed to gather information at multiple points in time on the labor market activities and other significant life events of several groups of men and women. NLS data have served as an important tool for economists, sociologists, and other researchers for more than 50 years.
  • Henry A. Murray Research Archive at Harvard University—The Murray Research Archive is a multi-disciplinary research data archive focusing on the study of lives over time. It is a national repository for social science data on human development and social change, especially data that illuminates women's lives and issues of concern to women.

Advanced Searching: Tips & Tricks


You want to use the most precise, important terms based on your research topic. If you need a refresher on the basics of selecting keywords, review Step 4: Generate Keywords.

Your research will likely require you to use more advanced keyword techniques. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Field-specific Terms—Use terminology from the field instead of plain terms ("myocardial infarction" instead of "heart attack")
  • Dig Deeper—It is important to familiarize yourself with the basics of your topic and related concepts BUT advanced research requires more in-depth digging. Review the abstract and subject terms listed in the articles you found in your background research and use those to generate more specific search terms

Boolean search

Boolean is a common search language in many databases and even basic search engines like Google. It allows you to search beyond single words and refine your search terms.

  • AND will limit your search to only items that contain both/all of the search terms entered&mdash:"Social media" AND "celebrities" will return only articles that discuss BOTH social media AND celebrities.
  • OR will tell the database that either term is acceptable—"social media" OR "Facebook" OR "Twitter" will return articles that discuss ANY of those subjects.
  • "NOT will exclude terms from your search—"social media" NOT "digital media" will exclude any articles that discuss "digital media"


Image Credit: EBSCOhost's guide (Communication and Mass Media)

Other Advanced Search Techniques

  • Put a phrase in “quotation marks” to search for that exact phrase. This means fewer, more focused results!
  • Use wildcards by typing the * in place of one or more letters. For example librar* searches for any of the words: library, libraries, librarians, librarians, librarianship

For more search tips and advice for focusing your search, check out the Tips & Tricks for Effective Research LibGuide!