Developing a good search strategy is important
Once you've decided which terms are the most useful for your search, combine them in a Boolean search.
Use keywords (or MESH terms) only, DO NOT search using a full sentence.
Video on using MESH terms in PubMed
|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:
- Peer-Reviewed Articles
- Category or Topic
- Document Type
- Search within
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: 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:
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: 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.
Do not limit yourself to these databases. Check Databases by Subject page to see where there may be more databases that suit your research.
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.)
Process of an Annotated Bibliography
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 within 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
A whitepaper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.
Governmental organizations write white papers to outline policies before proposing new bills and legislations. A white paper is a good tool for gathering feedback from the public before implementing policy changes.
The goal of the white paper is to persuade or direct the reader towards making a specific decision.
Key characteristics of a white paper
Your white paper should include:
- Executive summary
- Background/problems/previous approaches
- New findings/solutions and recommendations
- Works cited or bibliography