Background information on your topic:
- Read your assignment instructions carefully
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the criteria of the assignment
- Identify key concepts of your research topic
- Need extra help? Click on Choosing an essay topic
- Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia
- Using Wikipedia wisely (video)
Identify key concepts:
- Use an online thesaurus.
- Use a dictionary or encyclopedia to find definitions and explanations of social work terms and concepts.
- Online resources like Google and Wikipedia, while not always accurate, are a great way to orient yourself in a topic, since they usually give a basic overview with a brief history and any key points. Reminder: you cannot use Wikipedia as a source in your bibliography!
Do an initial search for academic sources:
Here is the Social Work Subject Guide for further information.
Developing a good search strategy is important
- what is your assignment?
- what is the main topic?
- what aspect of the topic is of interest to you?
- who has an interest in that topic?
- what other language might they be using to talk about that topic? do they spell it differently?
- when was it relevant? is it a new idea, or a long standing issue?
- what other factors play into your issue? climate, population, government, geography, etc.
Once you've decided which terms are the most useful for your search, combine them in a Boolean search.
Use keywords only, DO NOT search using a full sentence.
|For example: "social work" AND (child* OR youth OR teenage*)|
- the brackets keep synonyms together
- the * will look for alternate endings
- AND/OR will modify a component to narrow or expand your results (the capitalization of AND/OR varies from database to database, it is better to get in the habit of capitalizing them)
- if you had a multi-word phrase, putting quotes around it will search specifically for that phrase, in that sequence, side by side such as "Human Rights"
Some databases have a list of terms used to index articles in a consistent manner. These terms can be used to search for relevant material.
This list may be referred to as:
- Subject Headings
Use database filters to narrow down and focus the results you find. For example:
- Category or Topic
- Document Type
- Search within
Discover new search terms
As you read through a list of search results, take note of any new terms that are relevant to your topic. Search using these new terms.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO BREAKING YOUR SEARCH QUESTION INTO A SEARCH PHRASE
Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form
- How do Canadian social workers treat teenage drug abuse?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
- Canada, social work, teenage, drug abuse
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
- teenage - juvenile, youth
Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.
Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement
- Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
- Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
- Canada AND social work AND teenage AND drug abuse
- (teenage OR youth OR juvenile) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.
Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings
A wildcard is usually represented by a *. This is also called truncation.
- (teenage* OR youth OR juvenile*) AND Canad* AND drug abuse
Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching
Some databases search each word separately. To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.
- "drug abuse"
Step 7: Evaluate your results
If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:
To broaden your search (find more):
- Find synonym for each keyword.
- Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
- Use wildcards/truncation.
To narrow your search (find fewer):
- Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
- Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').
The library's search tool Omni is on the library homepage and lets you do just one search to find books, newspaper articles, journal articles, and other types of resources.
- Use keywords only, do not search using a full sentence. OMNI is not like Google. You cannot type in a question or sentence and get results.
- Use an online thesaurus to help find synonyms for your keywords.
- Use the Step-by-Step Guide to Building your Search above to create your search string.
- Resource Type
- Publication Date
More information available here.
Use the same Search Tips as found above in the Step-by-Step Guide to Building your Search. The databases are not like Google. You cannot search an entire question or sentence.
Tip: Most databases provide a way to restrict the results of a search to peer-reviewed or academic articles. This may be done differently from database to database.
Specialized databases you should use:
Start with Specialized Subject Databases Video
- Social Work Abstracts
- Social Services Abstracts
- Both CPI-Q and Canadian Business and Current Affairs Database have Canadian content.
- JSTOR and Google Scholar are both excellent multidisciplinary databases.
- Children: Child Development & Adolescent Studies and Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Abstracts
- Education: ERIC
- Gender and women's studies: Gender Studies database and Studies on Women and Gender Abstracts
- Health (including women's health): Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL)
- History: America History and Life (Canada and US)
- Human rights: HuriSearch
- Indigenous peoples: Bibliography of Native North Americans and America History and Life and Native Health Database
- Mental Health: PsycINFO
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSDpubs and PsycINFO
- Public Policy: PAIS Index
- Political Economy: EconLit
- Poverty: Sociological Abstracts and World Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Abstracts
TIP: Click on "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" box if the option appears. This way you will only see those articles are that appropriate for your research.
Do not limit yourself to these databases alone. Check Databases by Subject page to see where there may be more databases that suit your research.
What is Grey Literature
Grey literature is defined as "information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing" ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body." —ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997. Expanded in New York, 2004.
This is the best place to start for information on Grey Literature.
Go to the Think Tanks Page to find more Grey Literature
Get one-on-one help with your research assignments or access one of our many subject guides. Contact me, Margaret McLeod for a one-on-one session.
You can also CHAT or text with a librarian if you need help after hours.
If you are interested in figuring out library research on you own, try the Choose your Own Research Adventure pages.
Use this worksheet:
to help organize your thoughts while reading your academic articles.