Pick a research topic:
- Read your syllabus (assignment instructions).
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the assignment instructions.
- Narrow or broaden the scope of your topic so that it is "doable."
- What's scope? Scope refers to the "people, places and things" or "who, what, when and where" that you are studying. For example, Canada or another country? Children or adults? Education or child protection services?
Identify key concepts:
- Use an online thesaurus.
- Use a dictionary or encyclopedia to find definitions and explanations of social work and political economy 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 a Subject Guide to help you pick the right databases, search-engines and sources for your assignment.
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 does economic inequality affect women in Canada?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
- economic, inequality, women, Canada
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
- inequality - disparity, imbalance
- women - gender, female
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.
- Economic AND inequality AND women AND Canada
- (inequality OR disparity OR imbalance) - 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.
- economic AND (inequality OR disparity OR imbalance) AND (wom*n OR female* OR gender) AND Canad*
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.
- "human rights"
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:
- 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.
- Business: Business Source Complete
- Children: Child Development & Adolescent Studies and Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Abstracts
- Economics: EconLit
- 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.
Yes, you can use Google or any other Internet search engine to locate resources... but how do you know when what you have found is authoritative and trustworthy?
You are responsible for ensuring the academic content of the documents that you use. Consider carefully how you will assess the information that you find. You may wish to find answers for these questions:
- is the author affiliated with an academic institution?
- is a biography available for the author from a trusted (reference) source?
- what is the reputation of the author?
- is the article peer-reviewed?
- who has cited (used) this article in other research?
- is the web site associated with an educational institution?
- is there a physical address associated with the web site / author?
Grey Literature is another good source of information.
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
Restricting content to file type
- to do this type in your topic and then "filetype:pdf" or "filetype:doc"
Restricting content to site .org or .gov sites
- to do this type in your topic and then either "site:.org" OR "site:.gov" OR "site:.edu"
Restricting content to searching titles only
- to do this type search "intitle: "human rights""
To exclude words from your search
- to do this search use operator "-" (minus) eg. jaguar speed -car
Research Skills Tips:
- Start broad, then dive into the specifics. Get a good overview of your topic (see information above in Getting Started...). Then start narrowing down to more specific ideas.
- Learn how to recognize a quality source. Not every source is reliable, so it’s crucial that you recognize good sources. To determine a reliable source, use your analytical skills and critical thinking. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this source agree with other sources I have found?
- Is the author an expert in the field?
- Does the author’s point of view have a conflict of interest regarding this topic?
- Verify information from several sources. The internet is a big place, and, for the most part, anyone can say whatever they want online—many websites don’t evaluate their content for factual accuracy. Use the CRAAP test to help determine the accuracy of online information.
- Stay organized
- Start early
- Use the Library!
Search OMNI on the library homepage for Academic Writing.
Help is available on campus at the Writing Services.
You may find the following writing resources helpful as well:
- Purdue Online Writing Lab
- Writing the Research Paper Video
- Student research and report writing : from topic selection to the complete paper
- Grammar and style
Citation ~ Avoid Plagiarism
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to plagiarize is "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own [or] use (another's production) without crediting the source".
Tips to avoid plagiarism:
- TAKE NOTES: writing down page numbers and references throughout your research is a good way to save time when you need to quote and cite sources.
- NEVER copy and paste material unless you cite it properly.
- At the end of each paper/report you must CITE ALL SOURCES you have used, whether you quote them directly or paraphrase the ideas.
- LEARN AND USE citation style guides: Citing Your Sources
- Learn to Paraphrase
- When in doubt, CITE IT!
- Ask for help!
Other Citation resources
The School of Social Work uses APA Style as their default style.
You can also just Google: "how do I cite xxxx in apa", which often turns up the official apa.org answer and other reputable (look for .edu or other university web sites). Example: "how do I cite a video in APA"