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Qualitative Research Methods

Course Number: SY281

Subject: Sociology


This guide will help you as you research your literature review for your SY281 final assignment. Each section below will guide you in the research process. 

Getting Help 

Image of Matt Rohweder, LibrarianI'm Matt Rohweder, the Sociology Librarian, and I'm happy to help you with research for your literature review, as well as citation questions. To set up a Zoom or in-person appointment with me, email me at

I am on campus 2-days a week, so please let me know if you prefer a virtual or in-person meeting.

*Please note: I try to observe email free evening and weekends. 

Research Strategy 

Developing your research strategy starts by making sure you have a workable research question. 

Research Question 

Using your research topic, you will want to consider developing your research question, which will help guide you in both the qualitative research you'll be doing, as well as your literature review. 

When you develop your research question, you want to think about the details of what you’re planning to research. This is a time to consider what you’re interested in knowing. Think about where you plan on doing your observations and what factors you want to observe. Maybe you want to take race into consideration? Or gender? Or another category that fits with your overall topic.

Your question should NOT be too specific or contain elements which are difficult to research or observe. 

For example, one of my interests is in how newly diagnosed diabetics find information about their health. So, I might develop this topic into a research question similar to this: 

What questions do diabetics ask when using online message boards, such as Reddit, to find health information?

This question sums. up my research topic, gives me direction to find qualitative data, and can be clearly answerable. 

Once you've developed a research question, you'll next need to break that down into search terms. This next section will help you with that. 

Search Terms

To start, you'll need to look at your research question and consider what are the most important points in that question. What terms best indicate what you want to find out. 

In the case of my research question, What questions do diabetics ask when using online message boards, such as Reddit, to find health information? I might highlight: 

  • diabetics
  • online message boards
  • health information 

Note: Because you are searching for articles that include a qualitative methodology this can be included in your search terms. 

These will now become your primary search terms. 

However, it is always a good idea to brainstorm alternative or additional search terms. Having a wide array of search terms allows you to find more research depending on how authors write their articles/books etc. 

For example, your search term list might look like: 

  • diabetics = diabetes, T1D (Type-1 Diabetes), T2D (Type-2 Diabetes), insulin dependant, hypoglycaemia  
  • online message boards = social media, Facebook, internet
  • health information = medical information, health care information 
  • qualitative 

Once you'd developed your search terms, you'll want to start looking at the library databases for some articles. 

Finding Articles - Tips & Tricks

Search Tactics and Tips 

Here are some search tactics to help you in finding articles.

What is the tactic?

What does the tactic do?


Phrase searching

Use quotation marks to find more than one term in a row.

"health information"


Use an asterisk* at the end of a term to include multiple endings.


diabetic, diabetes

Boolean AND

Use AND to ensure that all terms appear in every search result.

"heath information" AND diabetics

Boolean OR

Use OR to ensure that at least one term appears in every search result.

Reddit OR "online message boards"

 Additional Search Tips

  • Peer review limit = check off “peer reviewed” to search for published research literature.
  • Date limit = confine your search to a specific date range.  
  • Save & Pin articles that match your criteria = As you go through your results MOST databases will allow you to Save or Pin those results you want to keep or refer back to.   Remember – you MIGHT have to log into the Database.

Putting it all together

Using some of the tactics above your final search might look like: 

(diabetics OR diabetes) AND "health information" AND ("online message boards" OR Reddit OR online) AND qualitative

One Final Tip

As lovely as your final search might look, I always recommend starting simple. You don't need to use your alternative search terms right away, instead stick with your primary search terms. Don't get too complicated right off the bat, you'd be surprised how much information a simple search can get you. 

Using the Library & Finding Articles 

Where to start

Different search tools (e.g. Omni - the Library search tool, Google, etc.) are built to do different things. You might want to start here, with the Library's main search engine: Omni Advanced Search

But if you want to get more advanced, you can look at the Sociogy Guide and select from some of the key databses there: Sociology Guide

Finding the Right Article: 

Chart outlining some of the strategies when doing a search, which are duplicated in the Description section.


Don't forge to cite any work you quote from or use as part of your literature review and overall study. There are a number of resources you can use to build citations. To get help with citations, you can visit either of these resources: 

As well, you can always ask your Librarian

Below you will find a series of videos on creating citations using the Library's various databases. 



April 1 - In-class Group Activity 

This is a working session, designed to help you start (and maybe complete) the first step in your literature review - finding articles. You will have the majority of the class to work in your groups to find two (2) peer-reviewed articles based on your topic. We will be circulating and available to help with questions. 

Note: Participation is mandatory to get credit for the class. 



Page Owner: Matt Rohweder

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Last Updated: April 1, 2024 10:23am