This guide is intended for early undergraduate students to introduce the topic of social media—a big topic that could potentially overlap with psychology, art, technology, political science, philosophy, sociology, medicine, and more, depending on the research question. Here you can find some ideas for key words and sub-topics, as well as a few databases to start searching, and a small sampling of materials the UMN libraries having to do with social media.
Example keywords and subtopics
These are some examples to help you get started thinking about what big concepts and key terms might be helpful to use in your search. Try to use a variety of search terms and key words as you search, which will help you figure out what searches lead to the most relevant results. Want to learn more about keywords and developing a search strategy? This video will explain in more depth.
- social media
- social network
- social media apps
- mass media
- media technologies
- online networks
Researching a big topic can be difficult and time-intensive, so it often helps to narrow the research focus towards a smaller sub-topic. Here are a few examples of potential areas a research project regarding social media might examine.
Mental health, gender, impact on politics, advertising, influence on crime, influence on education, cybercrime, personal branding, online gaming effects, interpersonal relationships, social media addiction, algorithms, information literacy, social media regulation and policy, impact on social movements, free speech on social media platforms, misinformation, "fake news," identity theft, cyberbullying, impact of COVID-19 on social media habits, child behavior, community-building or interest sharing, "going viral," impact on humor (memes), polarization or division.
Databases are a very useful tool for a researcher, because many of them specialize in offering credible, scholarly sources like academic journal articles, or more popular sources such as newspaper or magazine articles. Databases are powerful because they allow you to search through many academic journals at once, and searching the right database can yield far more relevant, helpful results than Google can. Watch this tutorial to learn more about databases.
A few databases to explore:
A great place to start your research on any topic, search multidisciplinary, scholarly research articles. This database provides access to scholarly and peer reviewed journals, popular magazines and other resources. View this tutorial to learn how to go from a general idea to a very precise set of results of journal articles and scholarly materials.
A comprehensive interdisciplinary collection of journal article citations. Articles are not limited to the sciences alone, and also includes results from arts and humanities, as well as social sciences. This resource can link you to who cited an article, as well as what papers the article is citing—very handy. View this tutorial to learn more.
CQ Researcher provides in-depth coverage of important issues of the day. Reports are written by experienced journalists, footnoted, and professionally fact-checked. Full-length articles include an overview, historical background, chronology, pro/con feature, plus resources for additional research. Shorter "Hot Topics" articles provide a solid introduction to subjects in demand.
Use Google Scholar to find articles from academic publishers, professional societies, research institutes, and scholarly repositories from colleges and universities. If you are using from off-campus access, change the "Library Settings" to University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Look for the "FindIt@U of M Twin Cities" links in your Google Scholar search results for access to full text and PDFs.
Sample of online books
Below are a selection of online books and readings on the broad topic. We have more online books, journal articles, and sources in our Libraries Search and article databases.
This is an example of how to search using a database:
The important thing to remember is that searching on databases is different from searching on google. Instead of typing your question "How does social media impact teenagers?" try using your keywords to link topics together.
In this example, I used social media AND mental health AND (teenagers OR adolescents) to get 805 results. This means it is searching for sources that address social media, as well as mental health, and either the word teenager or adolescent appears.
Notice that the results automatically sort by date (NOT relevance), putting the most recent results at the top. This setting can be adjusted if you prefer.
This guide was created by Theresa Heitz in the Spring of 2023.