Skip to Main Content

Research Guides

Criminology and Sociolegal Studies


Keyword searching represents the simplest and most straightforward approach.

Simply type in your keywords, as you would in Google, and the database's relevancy ranking algorithm will (theoretically) display the most relevant records first.  Most databases also offer alternative sort options. For example, in Criminal Justice Abstracts you can also sort by date, source, and author.




You can then use filters to fine-tune your results.

Be cautioned, however, that keyword searching can be imprecise; records which do not use your keywords will not appear in your results; for example a search on domestic violence will miss records that use the terms wife abuse or spousal assault instead.  As well, if your keywords appear in different parts of the record, that record may not be relevant.


Use Boolean connectors, AND, OR, NOT to construct a search statement that combines (or excludes), concepts, and allows you to express a concept using alternative keywords.  Boolean connectors can be used to broaden or narrow your results.

Use the AND operator to combine search concepts.

For example, if your topic is the effect of media on youth violence, break your topic down into its constituent concepts (media, youth, violence) and combine them with the AND connector.

This means that all three terms must be present in a record in order for that record to be included in your results.

In this way, the AND connector can be used to narrow your results; the more terms, or concepts, you "AND" into your search statement, the more focused your results.

Use OR to broaden your results by searching on alternative terms, or synonyms. 

Using the OR operator to combine alternative keywords helps you capture records that you might miss using a simple keyword search.

Example:  media OR television OR video; youth OR juvenile; crime OR violence OR homicide.

Use NOT to exclude keywords from your search results, e.g., homicide NOT manslaughter finds all records containing the term homicide but not manslaughter.  Use this connector sparingly, since you could miss relevant records about e.g., homicide which also contain the term manslaughter.


Some database services include proximity operators, which facilitate further fine-tuning. 

Since proximity operators differ across databases, it is necessary to consult individual database Help screens in order to make proper use of them.

Proximity operators are particularly effective when searching full-text articles and e-books because they enable you to pinpoint instances within large documents where your search terms occur close together.

For example, in Criminal Justice Abstracts, the Near (N) operator finds words within x words of each other (N8 = within 8 words) regardless of the order in which you type them. 

The Within (W) operator finds words within x words of each other in the order in which you entered them.

Phrase, Truncation and Wildcard

Most databases use quotation marks to perform a phrase search; others, such as Criminal Justice Abstracts, also offer a phrase search option on the search screen.

Although most databases use the asterisk (*) as a truncation symbol, this practice varies across databases; you should consult individual database Help screens to determine the appropriate symbols for each resource.  The truncation symbol searches multiple word endings, e.g., violen* finds violent and violence

In many databases, e.g., Criminal Justice Abstracts and ProQuest, the question mark (?) is used to replace a single character within a word, e.g., wom?n finds both woman and women; in Criminal Justice Abstracts the hatch mark (#) is used to replace one or more characters, e.g., neighb#r finds both neighbour and neighbor.  

Truncation and Wildcard searching both simplify and broaden your search statement by enabling a single keyword to capture multiple word endings and spelling variations. 


Each database record consists of a selection of fields, i.e., author, title, subject, abstract, etc., allowing you to bring more flexibility and focus to your search.

If you know, for example, the name of an expert on your topic, you can search his/her name in the author field.

You can also achieve a high relevancy hit rate by searching on the document title, although by doing so you risk missing  records whose titles do not reflect their subject.

Searching by subject is a particularly effective strategy.  Subject headings are assigned by indexers to represent a document's main topic(s). 

This addresses some of the shortcomings of keyword searching by substituting prescribed terms for the at times, numerous alternative terms that simple keyword searching cannot always cover. 

It is also much more likely that the records in your hitlist are on-topic if your search terms are subject headings.

Another option is to perform a keyword search on, e.g., domestic violence, then check the Subject filter to the left of your hitlist for a selection of appropriate headings.

Limiters and Filters


Many databases feature limit options, e.g., linked full text, scholarly/peer-reviewed, publication date, etc., on the initial search screen, allowing you to focus your search prior to running it.



Filters usually appear to the left of your hitlist after you've run your search, and are generated by your specific results, thus providing you with multi-faceted options for fine-tuning your results.

The number and nature of filters vary across databases, so take some time to explore them. 

As previously mentioned, the subject filter can be a powerful tool for achieving high relevance. 

Although filters make searching easier by enhancing the effectiveness of the simple Google-style keyword search, this approach should not be relied upon exclusively, but used in tandem with the other approaches recommended in this guide.

Citation and Related Articles

Citation searching offers an alternative approach by drawing on document bibliographies rather than keywords and subject terms.

Citation searching can be done by:

a) consulting the list of references accompanying most scholarly articles (and books), and

b) determining which articles have cited a given publication.

Option a) takes your seach back in time by mining the list of previously-published documents referenced in your article, while Option b) takes you forward by identifying the more recently-published articles that have cited your publication.

Related Articles links to works that share the same keywords, references, or authors with the source article.

The table below identifies the features available from each of the major database providers.

References Cited By Related
Criminal Justice Abstracts (EBSCO) yes yes no
ProQuest yes yes no
Scopus yes yes yes
Web of Science yes yes yes
Google Scholar no yes yes



In addition, Web of Knowledge, Scopus and Google Scholar offer more extensive citing features.

Web of Knowledge:



Pros and Cons of Citation Searching: 

You do not have to worry about finding the right keywords and subject terms.  Essentially, you are enlisting the help of experts (authors) in identifying the most relevant sources (references) in their respective areas of expertise. 

On the other hand, references cited in your article, or which cite your article, may only be peripherally related to your topic. 

Pearl Growing

Incorporates some of the search techniques described above.

Use your most relevant hits to grow your hitlist:

  • Search for additional publications by a particular author

  • Mine record(s) for keywords and subject terms

  • Do a citation search

The more relevant your source(s), the more fruitful this approach is likely to be.