Using Sociological Abstracts Effectively

Sociological Abstracts is the main index used for locating articles within scholarly publications in Sociology.

  • It offers a variety of search options - from a simple, general search to one with a high degree of control.
  • It specializes in Sociology, with relevant terminology and options.
  • Also see the ProQuest guide to Sociological Abstracts.


Connect to Sociological Abstracts here.

Or, find it on the Databases A-Z Page, from the Library homepage.


On this page:

Sociological Abstracts Records (Explained)

A record describes an item in the database. Sociological Abstracts records are citations - descriptions of articles, conference proceedings, or book sections.

A record includes the basics:

  • title of the article/chapter,
  • the author(s),
  • the affiliation of the authors (where they work),
  • the source (journal, book, or conference title), and
  • an abstract (description of the article).

But Sociological Abstracts goes well beyond the basics, and provides much more information you can use to narrow your search.

There's no full text in this database, but there is a link to Get It! Trent to find the full text of the article in one of our many e-journal subscriptions.

Here is a screen shot of the beginning of a full record:

screen capture of a Sociological Abstracts full record (top portion only).


  • This is a description of a journal article published in August 2014, in volume 18, issue 6-7 of the journal Citizenship Studies.
  • It includes an abstract, which describes the paper.
  • Further down (not shown) are details about the language of the item (it isn't always in English), and the references used. It's a long record with a great deal of useful information.

When you search Sociological Abstracts your results are first presented in short form, so that many can fit on a screen. To see a full record for any item, click on the title or "Abstract/Details".

Basic Search

A basic search looks for your terms in the title, author, abstract, subjects, or full text of the references of an article. If you've assigned your own tags to an item, it will search those too.

It's a very broad search that may find items of little or no value. The only control you have with this search is to limit it to "Peer reviewed" or "Scholarly journals". It's not the default search - you usually need to click on "Search" to bring up this screen.

Sometimes this is a good way to get started, and you can get ideas from your results to help narrow down your search. However, you can control your results better by using a more specific Advanced Search.

  • "Advanced Search" is usually the default search screen.

Advanced Search

An advanced search allows you to specify where you want your search terms to appear (i.e. what field they're in). This helps control the relevancy of your results. To perform an advanced search:

  • Enter each of your search terms in a box.
    • Choose to join your search boxes with AND, OR, or NOT. (See the Keywords tutorial for an explanation of these operators.)
  • Beside each search box use the drop-down menu to select where your search term should appear. For example, document title, author, publication title, subject heading, etc.
    • The default location to search is "Anywhere" (except full text) of each record. 
    • With some locations (such as "Subject heading" or "Author"), an option to search a list appears when you select it.

Here's a screen capture of the Advanced Search screen:

Screen capture showing the Advanced Search options described above.


The Advanced Search also provides you with a large selection of limitations that allow you to specify exactly what you need to find. You can limit a search by:

  • Peer reviewed, Scholarly journals, or date range.
  • Source Type: i.e. Books, Conference Papers & Proceedings, Dissertations, Reports, and Scholarly journals.
  • Document type: i.e. Journal Article, Case Study, Bibliography, Book Review, Dissertation, Conference Paper.
  • Language.

You can also specify:

  • how to present the records: by date or relevancy, and
  • how many items appear on each page.

Click "Search" to perform the search you specified.


The subjects used in Sociological Abstracts are very powerful because they use controlled vocabulary. A controlled vocabulary is a specified list of terms that can be used to describe an item. In this case the terms are controlled by the publisher (Sociological Abstracts) and applied consistently by scholarly staff who read an item and determine which terms should be applied. This is significant because you can be confident that the same terminology is applied in the same way, and it links relevant items.

You can use these subjects in 3 ways. We'll perform a search on "sex drive" to show how we can use the subject terms.


1. When we search for "sex drive" in "Anywhere", we find 59 results. Below the number of results is a list of suggested subjects, like this:

Screen capture showing the suggested subjects, as described above

These suggestions come from the authoritative list of subjects. If we like one, we can click on it to perform a brand new search, unrelated to the results we have with this search.

screen capture showing the Narrow Results by Subject option, as described above


2. On the left side of the screen there's an option to narrow results to those with a specific subject.

This tells us that, out of the 59 results found from our original search, there are:

  • 29 items that also have the subject "sexual behavior",
  • 12 items that also have the subject "motivation",
  • 12 items that also have the subject "sexuality",
  • etc.

If we click on any of these subjects, we see a subset of our 59 results: those containing the term "sex drive" (from the original search) AND the subject we've chosen (e.g. "sexual behavior").


3. Before we even begin a search we can look at the Thesaurus for authoritative terms to use.

See a link to "Thesaurus" in an Advanced Search. It opens the thesaurus search, where we enter our term.

  • Choose to find thesaurus terms that contain your term or that start with your term.
  • Click "Find".
  • See an alphabetical list that matches your search.
  • Click on a term to see broader or narrower terms.
  • Click on the blue box to the right of a term to see related terms.
  • Click on the empty box to the left to add a term to your search.

In our example, we see there is NO subject for "sex drive", but we can browse the list of terms that start with "sex" to see if anything else applies.

  • If we choose to search for "sex drive" anyway, we'll find any items that include this term in the title, abstract, or other area of the record.

Here's a screen capture of the Thesaurus search:

Screen capture of the thesaurus search described above.

Lists of Terms

Even an index has indexes - a list of all existing entries in a field of a record. You can look at the list to find the best terms to search for.

In Sociological Abstracts there are lists for:

  • author
  • publication title (journal name)
  • subject headings
  • classification codes (broad topic areas)
  • country of publication.

These lists appear as pop-ups when you select this field to search. They're helpful for ensuring you have the proper terminology to narrow your search.

  • For instance, if you click on the list of subject headings, you'll see all the subject headings that exist and you can choose the one you want.

Recent Searches

Sometimes you might do so many different searches that you lose track of what you've done. After you've done at least one search, a link to "Recent Searches" appears at the top of your results, showing all the searches you've done in this session and how many items were found with each search.

You can use this information to:

  • view results of a previous search again,
  • combine searches using AND and OR,
  • save searches in "My Research" to perform again later, or in another database, and
  • set up an "alert" or "RSS Feed" to run this search regularly and have results sent to you.