Sociological Abstracts – Reviewed Fall 2000

Reviewed by Katie Whitson, University of Washington, Bothell, June 25, 2000

Sociological Abstracts, 1963-date. Publisher: Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, P.O. Box 22206, San Diego, CA 92192-0206, phone 619-695-8803, Fax 619-695-0416. User Assistance 800-752-3945, email Vendor: SilverPlatter Information Inc., 100 River Ridge Drive, Norwood, MA, 02062-5043, phone 1-800-343-0064, Fax: 1-781-769-8763,


Sociological Abstracts (SA) indexes and abstracts scholarly literature in the field of sociology and related disciplines. The database provides abstracts only–no full-text–of articles from over 2,500 journals, book chapters, conference papers presented at association meetings, dissertation citations from Dissertations Abstracts International, and book reviews. Social Planning/Policy & Development Abstracts (SOPODA) is a sub-file of the database and includes literature on policy issues such as aging, health, environment, and violence.

Journals that contain the word “sociology” in the titles are considered core journals and are abstracted fully. Non-core journals include priority journals and selective sources. Priority journals are those in which sociologists regularly publish. They are chosen according to their relationship to the social sciences and their relevance to sociological topics. More than 50% of the substantive articles in these journals are included in the database. Selective sources are those in which sociologists sometimes publish and have some relationship to the social sciences. Less than 50% of the articles appearing in this type of he articles appearing in this type of journal are included in Sociological Abstracts. Articles are screened by senior editors with backgrounds in the social sciences; as a result, the publication has remained consistent.

Scope and Coverage:

According to the “Sociological Abstracts Selection and Coverage Policy” provided to this reviewer by the publisher, SA bases its selection criteria on three goals: “inclusiveness, systematicity, and continuity.” Their objective is to “abstract the complete range of sociological journals; to fully abstract every core journal and to select from other journals those articles pertinent to sociology; and to abstract journals in chronological order of their publication.”

Sociological Abstracts covers publications from 1963-present, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, philosophy, economics, education, community development, demography, and medicine. The database indexes journals from 55 countries, written in 30 different languages. At the time of this review there were 451,453 English-language articles (about 80% of the entries). French, German, and Spanish-language articles make up another 10% of the entries. All abstracts are in English. Users can limit to English, Spanish, French, German, or Italian from the search screen; other languages included in the database can be selected by clicking on the Index button.

Sociological Abstracts states that roughly 40% of the journals indexed in SA are from outside the US and Canada. In a sample search for (homelessness and children) sorted by Country of Publication, this reviewer found 30% of the journal entries to be outside the US and Canada. Articles from 20 other countries, including Germany, Australia, Croatia, Nepal, and Peru were represented in the results of the search. Of the document types included in the database, about 63% are journal articles, 26% are book reviews, 6% are sociological association papers, 3% represent dissertations, 1% are books. Book chapters, film reviews, and software reviews make up another 1% of the document types. A complete list of journal titles is available online from the journal title index, and the number of entries for each title is included in that list. The database contains about 586,626 records and grows by approximately 28,000 records a year approximately 28,000 records a year. There are about 66,500 SOPODA records, which comprise about 11% of the database.

Sociological Abstracts on WebSpirs is updated four times a year: April, June, October, and December. In a search by this reviewer for articles published in 2000, no records were found. A call to SA confirmed that lag time between publication and indexing averages about six months. Core journals are indexed as soon as they are received by Sociological Abstracts; selective journals may lag by up to a year.

Format and Organization:

Sociological Abstracts on WebSpirs 4.2 uses a graphical interface. This java-scripted database makes use of windows, buttons, and frames. The initial search screen contains a search box with room for two lines of visible text (approximately 14 words). If more words are added to the search, the text scrolls up. A blue panel is located to the right of the search screen. The panel contains ten buttons with text and buttons with text and icons, which allow the searcher to check the thesaurus, suggest other search terms, begin a new search, view marked objects, find help, search indexes, find information about the database, and logout. From the search screen, the user may select Search Builder for step-by-step help in creating a search or choose the Change Display button to customize the record display.

Once a search has been executed, a new frame with two rows of buttons appears above the search results. These buttons in the retrieved-records page include options for printing, saving, e-mailing, changing the display, returning to the search screen, and retrieving the next set of records. Current searches are posted in this frame. For example, if a patron had used Search Builder to find articles with “homeless” in the title and “children” in the title and “children” as a descriptor, the final search would be displayed in this frame as ((homeless) in TI) and ((children) in DE).

After the initial search has been completed and the user clicks on the Back to Search button, another frame appears below the search screen. This bottom frame records the search history. The user may combine searches, click a button to have a search retyped in the screen above, clear existing searches, or click on the link “display” to show the records produced by the search.

The citation display for retrieved records includes title (TI), author(s) (AU), institutional affiliation of first author (IN), source (SO), document type (DT), and accession number (AN). Users may change the display by clicking the Change Display button located at the top of the screen. Display options include citation plus abstract, citation only, titles only, complete record, or selected fields. As an alternative to using Change Display, users may also pull up the complete record of an entry by clicking on the hotlinked record number in the citation. Records include hotlinks for author, source, journal, subject headings, and major descriptors [DEM], which enable the user to perform lateral searching. (Minor descriptors, designated as DES, are not hotlinked).

Searchers may sort retrieved records by any of the 33 fields available in Sociological Abstracts records, or they may also sort in ascending or descending order–either alphabetically or numerically, depending on the field chosen. It is important to note how many records are being sorting. The default is 50 records, and the system allows the user to sort up to 200 records. If a library is set up to provide holdings information about journal titles indexed in SA, the records retrieved may include a holdings message about document availability and/or a button that allows the user to check the library’s online catalog for current holdings information.

Electronic Record Structure, Retrieval, and Display: From the main search ; color:black’>From the main search box, the searcher may do a free-text search or choose field-specific searching using the operator “in” or the character “=”. For example, a search for “Marx” in the title or author field could be written as “Marx in ti,au.” If the field being searched includes a date, the following characters may be used: >, <, >=, <=. When using the search box from the main screen, it is important to include the “in” or “=” for a search in some fields. For example, a keyword search for the ISSN number “0046-8819” in the main search box, will produce no hits. If the search is written as “0046-8819 in IS” — or if searching in the ISSN index — it produces 109 hits.

Besides using the Set Other Limits button on the main search screen to search by languages, the searcher may specifically limit a search to the following fields: Document Type (DT), Document Language (DL), Country of Publication (CP), Publication Date (PD), Classification Code (CC), Subset (SB), Review Evaluation (RE), and Update Code (UD). A message next to the limit box lets the user see when a limit has been set. Another button allows the user to clear exiting limits. When a user chooses Set Other Limits, that user is taken to another screen where he can choose terms from drop down menus. These menus include the following fields: Language, Document Type, Document Language, Country of Publication, Publication Date of Original Document, Classification Code, Subset, ification Code, Subset, and Review Evaluation. In addition, a range of Publication Years or Update Codes may be searched.

The following operators may be used: ADJ, AND, NEAR, NOT, OR, and WITH. When searching two words in a free-text search, the default is adjacency. The user must insert AND if he does not want those words to appear as a phrase. A free-text search for “homeless children” will find 85 hits “homeless” may appear before or after “children” in all those records. A search for “homeless ADJ children” will bring up 78 hits; all of these records show “homeless” before “children.” The system allows complex searching using nesting with parentheses. Users should be sure to insert parentheses in complex searches; otherwise WebSpirs 4.2 will insert them according to its own formula. For example, if one searches for “homelessness or homeless or runaways and children or adults” without parentheses, WebSpirs 4.2 determines the search to be “((homelessness or homeless or runaways) and children) or adults”; the result is almost 8,000 hits. Inserting the parentheses at the outset of the search–(homelessness or homeless or runaways) and (children or adults)– produces 608 hits. Beginning the search statement with an operator (AND, OR, NOT, WITH, NEAR, or IN) combines that search with the previous one.

Another useful tool that WebSpirs provides is Search Builder. From a pull-down menu, users create searches from the following fireate searches from the following fields: Citation, Title, Author, Contributor, Institutional Affiliation, Document Author, Association Name, Source, Publication Information of Original Document, Note, Abstract, All Descriptors, Major Descriptors and Descriptor Codes, Descriptors and Descriptor Codes, Index Phrase, and Subject Heading. Users may combine a search from this box with a second box using the boolean operators, AND, OR, or NOT. The database makes searching easy because of the options it provides, for instance using free text, building and refining searches using the command feature, or going through helpful menus via Search Builder. Users have the option of using free text or going to the thesaurus and finding the appropriate terms for the database. The truncation symbol (*) may be used at the end of a search term to search a string of characters. The wildcard character (?) may be used to substitute for one or no characters (M?c = Mac or Mc). The truncation symbols may be used anywhere in the term except as the first character.

One very nice feature of WebSpirs 4.2 is the ability to search laterally from several fields. Those include Author, major descriptors, and Subject Headings. The citation number may be used to pull up the complete record, which is convenient if your library opts for a citation default display only. Another way to change the default display is to click on the “Change Display” button at the top of the screen. Users are given the option of choosing to view the complete record, or specific fields. They may also select long, a combination of short or long, or short field labels. Changing the display even for a large number of records takes only seconds.

Indexing and Subject Access:

Besides the General Index, there are 17 field specific indexes: Author, Journal Title, ISBN, ISSN, Coden, Document Type, Language, Document Language, Country of Publication, Publication Date of Original Document, Classification Code, Subset, Library of Congress Catalog Number, Review Evaluation, Accession Number, and Update Code. The general index will always yield results because it shows all words that were used in indexing the database. Searchers can use this index to look up alternate spellings or other variations of the search term. Searching a field-specific index for language pulls up all languages indexed by the database, including number of entries.

An online thesaurus is available for subject searching and includes scope notes for each entry. In addition, authority terms used prior to 1986 are included. SA provides the user with a history of the subject headings, including the dates that terms changed names. The thesaurus lists narrower, broader and related terms. Subject headings may be exploded to allow the user to find records that contain the term itself or any of its narrower terms. Searchers may also click on hotlinked descriptors within item records.

Descriptors include subject terms, personal names, and geographic locations. Each descriptor is assigned a unique code. Prior to 1986, Sociological Abstracts used an authority file of terms for the descriptors. Since 1986, descriptors have been taken from the SA Thesaurus of Sociological Indexing Terms published by Oryx Press.


1986 – Thesaurus of Sociological Indexing Terms
Aging (D015900)
1963-1985 – Authority File
Old Age (021000)

To search for terms that have changed, both thh for terms that have changed, both the old and the new terms should be used. Example: (aging in DE and old age in DE).

Some terms did not change from the authority file to the thesaurus, but the corresponding codes did. Authority file codes consist of six digits; thesaurus codes consist of the letter D followed by six digits.


Divorce – D226200
Divorce – 135700

Both old and new codes should be used for comprehensive search results.

Descriptors are in the “All Descriptors (DE)” field. From 1996 on, descriptors were separated into the “Major Descriptors and Descriptor Codes (DEM)” and the “Descriptors and Descriptor Code (DES)” fields. The DES field contains descriptors that describe the minor topics of the article. Records prior to 1996 do not separate major and minor descriptors. For clarification on searching descriptors and authority terms in SA, the user may click on the Database Information icon.

There are two classification codes used in this database: SA (Sociological Abstracts) and SOPODA (Social Planning/Policy Development Abstracts). For best results, users should combine both classification codes (CC). (CC). SA is numbered from 0100 to 3371 and SOPODA from 6100-8390. To describe the documents in the database, each record contains one or more four-digit classification codes. For example, to find information on divorce, search CC=1941 and CC=6144. The subject heading (SH) field contains the text of the classification code. One may also search the corresponding subject headings: “sociology of the family, marriage, and divorce”; and “marital & family problems.” Users may limit to the entire set of SOPODA records by searching the Subset (SB) field, (i.e., SB= SOPODA).

Accuracy of Entries/Records:

This reviewer checked for accuracy of citations, page numbers, dates, volume numbers, and abstracts by examining a sample set of records. All samples contained abstracts that were pulled from the article itself or paraphrased from the author’s abstract. Citations were accurate and the references cited in the bibliographies were correct. Entries were free from typographical errors.

User Guidance:

To display the database guides, select “Database Information” in the WebSpirs toolbar or click “guides” at the top of any help window. An alphabetical table of contents is also available. Help icons are located on each screen to assist the patron with specific searches. For example, the initial search screen has help icons located next to the Find box, the Set Limits box, and the Change Display Settings box. Furthermore, this reviewer found that the editors of Sociological Abstracts provided quick, excellent feedback on questions about the index.

Document Availability:

Documents may be emailed, printed or downloaded to disk. Users may determine the number of records tomay determine the number of records to be emailed and customize the output by specifying fields. They may specify that the search history be included with the records, allow word wrapping, and choose the type of field labels–long, short, or a combination of long and short.

Comparisons with Related Resources:

A search for ((homelessness or homeless) and children) in DE found 199 hits in Sociological Abstracts and 276 hits in Expanded Academic Index. Based on the reviewer’s evaluation, of the 276 articles found in EIA, only 50% were scholarly as opposed to the 100% scholarly entries for SA. Sociological Abstracts had 98 different titles and EAI had 122 different titles. Only 30 articles from 17 different titles were icles from 17 different titles were found in both EAI and SA. As mentioned earlier, SA is about six months behind in indexing articles. A search for articles published in the year 2000 revealed no hits. EAI’s indexing is only two months behind for many titles. Due to the difference in coverage and the indexing lag, searchers should be advised to check both databases for relevant sources.

Recommendations for Improvement:

Each search in WebSpirs 4.2 opens a new window. This might be confusing for some users who are used to a back button. Users need to remember to close the current screen in order to return to the previous one. This procedure could be a difficult adjustment for novice users. Users may get lost returning to the previous screen when trying to modify a search or choose terms from the thesaurus. Searchers must learn to use the Close Window or Cancel button, which is not as intuitive to web-familiar searchers. There is no simple way to retrieve a list of authority file terms. Sociological Abstracts will send a list upon request. However, they are also referenced from the Thesaurus as part of the scope note. Approximately 6% of the entries in Sociological Abstracts are from association papers presented at sociological conferences. Users often have difficulty locating the full-text of these abstracts. Some of the records include contact information; many do not. It would be extremely helpful if the database could include information that would provide users and interlibrary loan offices a better and faster way of obtaining this type of material.

Positive Aspects:

The hotlinks provided in each record for citation make it very easy to change the display from citation to complete record. The author, descriptor, and subject heading hotlinks provide simple lateral searching. Function buttons are always visible to the user, and here are help icons available from most screens. Sociological Abstracts is an excellent database due to its scholarly coverage of sociological related materials, its numerous indexes and searchable fields. The user may search broadly from the general index or refine a search using the 17 field-specific indexes. The excellent international scope of this database makes it particularly useful for large research libraries.

Additional Features:

A library may subscribe to the Silverlinker database, which allows linking directly to full text documents available from publisher’s web sites. If the document cited in a bibliographic record is in the SilverPlatter database, a “link to” button appears in the FTXT field followed by the publisher’s name. Libraries may also insert local holdings statements within each record.


Bibliographic References and Other Credits “Sociological Abstracts Selection and Coverage Policy.” Provided by Jill Blaemers, Managing Editor of Sociological Abstracts.

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