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SOC 353: Methods of Social Research


Our library databases contain millions of peer-reviewed scholarly articles on every topic imaginable. For the most part, our databases are organized by subject; you can select one or several sociology and social science databases to search. Databases allow for more control over your searching. This also means you sometimes have to be more precise in your searching.

Alternatively, you can choose to search in the library's OneSearch, which searches the vast majority of our collections at once. This means you'll often get many more articles. This can be both a good and a bad thing. 

Empirical Articles
See this great resource for some tips on identifying empirical articles:

An empirical or primary research article reports on a study conducted by the authors. A review of the literature is an important step in any research study, but an empirical article goes on to describe the details of a specific study. This type of article:
  • Asks a research question or states a hypothesis
  • Identifies the population and specifies the number of subjects studied (sample size) and how they were selected (sampling method)
  • Describes the source of the data and methods used to collect it
  • Describes the research design or method (though it is not always explicitly stated)
  • Includes a results section describing major findings

Words to look for as clues include: analysis, study, investigation, examination, experiment, numbers of people or objects analyzed, control group, or survey.

To contrast, the following are NOT primary research articles (they are secondary sources):
  • Literature reviews*
  • Meta-Analyses/Review articles* (arrive at conclusions based on research from many other studies)
  • Editorials
  • Letters
  • Chapters in books
  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Speeches and interviews

* Literature reviews and meta-analyses also describe the authors' research method/methodology, focusing on their database search strategy and development of criteria for including or excluding individual study results. These articles are still secondary sources because they synthesize the findings of multiple research studies; the authors are not the primary researchers.

Why are citations important? Why is it necessary to cite?

To avoid plagiarism, you must give proper credit to all sources you use! Whenever you paraphrase or directly quote information, you must cite the sources of the information using a specific citation style. One of the most commonly used citation styles is APA -- the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). The current version of the APA Manual is the 7th edition, 2020. When using APA to cite your sources, you must have a list of References at the end of your paper and corresponding in-text citations in the body of your paper.

Cleveland State University takes plagiarism very seriously. Please see The Code of Student Conduct, which defines plagiarism as "stealing and/or using the ideas or writings of another in a paper or report and claiming them as your own. This includes but is not limited to the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment" (p. 53). Many CSU professors require their students to use a program named, which checks papers for plagiarism.

Please take the time to become familiar with APA style since you will use it a lot in your courses! There are many RULES to follow when citing sources in APA style, such as order of the elements, capitalization, and punctuation.


  • If you do not have access to the paper APA Manual, then refer to the Citation Guides page on the Library's Virtual Reference Desk. It contains links to websites to help you format your citations. A good starting point is the Purdue OWL site. 
  • The Purdue OWL is an excellent website for learning about APA Citation Style. Once you access the website, explore the links to the left, including In-Text Citations: The Basics and Reference List: Basic Rules. Review the many examples for citing different formats in APA style and the rules pertaining to Authors as well.
  • The APA citing help inside a research database is a good starting point, but ALWAYS check the references because the formatting is NOT 100% correct.
  • You can use free citation generators like Citation Machine or EasyBib to format citations, but they are not perfect, either! Double check your work! 
  • Use the References tab in Microsoft Word to insert citations and manage your sources. You can generate a reference list and insert in-text citations in your paper from this References tab. Make sure to check your citations for accuracy!
  • Use Mendeley or Zotero, which are free, web-based tools "to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources." See the Mendeley Research Guide and/or the Zotero Research Guide for more information. Mendeley and Zotero are powerful reference management tools, but errors still can occur. Remember that you are responsible for the accuracy of your citations. Make sure to proofread before submitting your work.