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 - avoid using verbs. Use nouns instead.
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.
Tip: Controlled vocabulary
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
Tip: 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 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.
- CAPITALIZE your Boolean terms
- 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').
|Start with the Omni search box to search across most of the library's databases. Use the main keywords from your research topic. As you retrieve results, use the filters on the left of the screen to narrow or broaden your search. Guide on finding articles in OMNI.|
Specialized databases you should use:
Start with Specialized Subject Databases Video
The main databases for Social Work:
- Canadian content: CPI-Q and Canadian Business and Current Affairs Database
- 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) and PubMed and Scopus
- History: America History and Life (covers Canada and the US)
- Human rights: HuriSearch
- Indigenous peoples: Bibliography of Native North Americans or America History and Life
- Mental Health: PsycINFO
- Multidisciplinary databases: JSTOR and Google Scholar. More multidisciplary databases.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSDpubs and PscyINFO
- Political Economy: EconLit
- Policy-related literature: PAIS Index and Business Source Complete
- Poverty: Sociological Abstracts and World Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Abstracts
TIP: Click on "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" box if the option appears.
Do not limit yourself to these databases. Check Databases by Subject page to see where there may be more databases that suit your research.
Why look at other people's dissertations anyway?
- Ensure your dream topic hasn’t already been covered
- How narrow or broad your dissertation topic needs to be
- Dissertation structure and research processes
- Check your advisor's previous students' work
- Thesis design
- Bibliography! Bibliography! Bibliography!
What is an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography gives an account of the research that has been done on a given topic. Like any bibliography, an annotated bibliography is an alphabetical list of research sources. In addition to bibliographic data, an annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value or relevance. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they may describe the author's point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression.
First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style. (APA)
Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.
An annotation is a paragraph which may contain the following points:
- information about the author (his/her qualifications or place of work)
- the main argument and purpose of the work
- method used witihin the work
- types of material/data/evidence the author used to make points
- the work's main recommendations or conclusions
- your critique and/or assessment of the work (a summary of your analysis of the argument)
- description of any biases and usefulness of the work for your essay
Summary Annotation Example:
Zinn, H. "A People's History of the United States". New York, NY: New Press, 1999.
In this book the history of the United States is seen from the viewpoint of people who were not necessarily beneficiaries of American democracy. The book concentrates on the experiences of slaves, American Indians, women, and other disenfranchised groups and how they were affected by the major events in American history. Zinn emphasizes in the introduction that his intent is not to demonize figures such as revolutionary leaders, but to portray them in a more realistic light, as people who, while contributing to the development of the United States, were influenced by the prejudices of their time.
Evaluative Annotation Example:
Maak, T. (2007). Responsible leadership, stakeholder engagement, and the emergence of social capital. Journal of Business Ethics, 74, 329-343. doi:10.1007/s10551-007-9510-5
This article focuses on the role of social capital in responsible leadership. It looks at both the social networks that a leader builds within an organisation, and the links that a leader creates with external stakeholders. Maak’s main aim with this article seems to be to persuade people of the importance of continued research into the abilities that a leader requires and how they can be acquired. The focus on the world of multinational business means that for readers outside this world many of the conclusions seem rather obvious (be part of the solution not part of the problem).In spite of this, the article provides useful background information on the topic of responsible leadership and definitions of social capital which are relevant to an analysis of a public servant.
It is sometimes challenging to find the vocabulary in which to summarize and discuss a text. Here is a list of some verbs for referring to texts and ideas that you might find useful:
The evidence indicates that . . .The article assesses the effect of . . .
The author identifies three reasons for . . .The article questions the view that . . .
Resources that may help you
Consult the help guide on writing an annotated bibliography
Why is this important?
- To keep track of how many times and where a publication is begin cited can help you gage the impact that article has in your discipline
- If the article has been cited, the database will provide a link to the citing article/author
- To locate current research based on earlier research
- To find out how a particular research topic is being used to support other research
- To track the history of a research idea
- To track the research history of a researcher
See our Cited Reference Searching page for in-depth search instructions.
Databases with Citation tracking features include:
Some individual specialized databases do this too. Check your results page for this.
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.
See the Grey Literature Pages.
See the Think Tanks Page
Use OMNI to search for Grey Literature
- Do your Boolean search
- Choose resource type - choose only those resources types that are considered Grey Literature (see Grey Literature Pages above)
See "Special Topics" on the Social Work Subject Guide
- Canadian Public Documents Collection
- Conference Board of Canada e-Library
- NBER Working Paper Series (U.S.)
- Policy File Index (U.S.)
Why should I use one?
- ability to collect, save, organize your references and pdf documents
- ability to search your own collection and add notes
- ability to create bibliographies in different citation styles such as APA, MLA...
- ability to work with Word so you can write, include citations, and produce your final bibliography
- ability to share/collaborate
Have questions? Want to learn more? Book an appointment via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you can't find what you need here, you can get books and articles from other libraries through interlibrary loans (ILL).
ILL service is available to currently registered Carleton University students, staff and faculty.
It's free and it is necessary!
You will find more information pertaining to being a Grad Student in Social Work on these pages such as:
- Literature reviews
- Reading for graduate school
- Theses databases
- Writing guides
Graduate Student Open Access Award
Worth checking out.
Please consider emailing me with your thoughts on the following:
1. What went well? Or, what did you learn from this session?
2. What are you still unsure about? Or, what would you improve?
All feedback will only be used for professional development.