Social Work

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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

Subject specific dictionaries and encyclopedias are useful for helping you figure out the jargon of a discipline and can give quick overviews of a topic to get you started. You can often pick up keywords to use in your search strategies from these sources:

Use this worksheet to write out your research topic and identify key ideas.

Choosing search terms

  • Choose nouns as search terms rather than verbs.
  • Avoid using a whole sentence, instead select the main ideas from your research question

For the research question What is the impact of drug addiction on parenting? 

  • Search for drug addiction AND parenting

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:

  • Thesaurus
  • Subject Headings
  • Taxonomy
  • Synonyms

Use synonyms to search for an item/phenomenon. 

  • For example: climate change can be synonymous with global warming

Search techniques

Quotation marks ("") - use to search for a phrase.

  • For example: "climate change"

Asterix (*) - use to find words with the same root. 

  • For example: fish* will find fish, fishes, fishing, etc.

AND and OR

use AND to combine search terms, both of which you want to find in an article.

use OR to combine synonyms, either of which you want to find in an article. Use brackets to group the synonyms. 

  • For example: ("climate change" OR "global warming")

Filters

Use database filters to narrow down and focus the results you find. For example:

  • Category or Topic
  • Document Type
  • Date
  • 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.

Explore your topic

Introducing the library's search engine - which makes it possible to search across many of the library's collections simultaneously. Including books, ebooks, journal titles, games, music, videos, government information, maps, and more.

However,  it doesn't search everything that the library owns or subscribes to so you will still need to search other resources to find everything that you need. The search engine also doesn't let you do sophisticated searches that you may be used to doing in specific databases.

When to use the library's search engine:

  • When starting research on a topic
  • If you are not sure which databases to use

Do an initial search for academic sources

Explore your topic

Introducing the library's search engine (OMNI) - which makes it possible to search across many of the library's collections simultaneously. Including books, ebooks, journal titles, games, music, videos, government information, maps, and more.

However,  it doesn't search everything that the library owns or subscribes to so you will still need to search other databases (see below) to find everything that you need.

When to use the library's search engine:

  • When starting research on a topic
  • If you are not sure which databases to use

Search Strategies for Database Searching

  • See tips offered in tab above Start Your Research

Databases you should use:

Use the Social Work Quick Guide for a list of the top five (5) databases.

More tips for effective searching

If you find one relevant article for your research it can lead to other relevant papers by the following:

  • using the databases, including Omni, look to find all papers & books published by the author or co-authors
  • explore the bibliography in the paper for sources
  • using Web of Science or Scopus, look for articles that cite the article you found. Remember, some databases will also list citing articles but those lists are limited to the current database. The Web of Science and Scopus are more comprehensive, with coverage from multiple databases. 
  • Remember to see if an citing article has itself been cited.

Journals recommended by faculty members

Faculty in the School of Social Work suggest the  following journals. Some of these publications are available only in either print or online while others are available in both formats.

Check Ulrich'sWeb to find out if these journals are peer-reviewed.

Find Books/eBooks

In the Library Search Engine, use keywords to find books and ebooks. Refine your search to Book/eBook

Find Images

Finding and Using Images includes information on citing images, digital image formats and search strategies.

Grey literature

Grey literature is an important source of information in social work. 

  • It adds a valuable global perspective
  • It provides detailed overviews on specific populations
  • It may be only source of local 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

Types of grey literature

Library resources

Other Resources

  • Canadian Government Information (a customized search engine for online Canadian government information)
  • Canadian Public Policy Collection (To limit your search in Scholars Portal, select Canadian Public Policy Collection from drop down menu in Select Collection field.)
  • Grey Matters (a checklist for health technology assessment from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH))
  • Grey Net (an international directory of organizations in Grey Literature and a respository) 

Web sources of grey literature

Academic research centres and educational websites

Social work organizations

Social research groups 

Social Work Gateways

Related Carleton University websites

Special topics

Aboriginal Canadians

Abuse and Violence

Aging

Bereavement

Children and Youth

Disabilities

Family

Feminism

Health

Homelessness

Human Rights

Immigration and resettlement

 Ceris:  The Ontario Metropolis Centre

Labour

Mental Health

Poverty

Restorative Justice

Sexual Orientation

Substance Abuse

Suicide Prevention

Wellbeing

Government Documents

Historical parliamentary documents

Federal government policies 

  1. The government information library tool (government websites, all levels)  
  2. Canadian Heritage.  Click on "Funding" in the left-hand corner of the page, then "Topics".  From this list pick "Cultural diversity and rights", then "Human Rights" and then "Canada's Reports to the UN" in the middle section of the page.  These reports detail government policies and activities (federal and provincial) related to important international treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  3. Employment and Social Development Canada.  Click on publications and resources under "About us" at the bottom of the page (audit and evaluation reports as well as the Treasury Board main estimates).
  4. Office of the Auditor General of Canada (evaluations of federal government policies and programs).  
  5. Library of Parliament of Canada (publications on policy issues).
  6. The Canadian Government Policy Cycle subject guide.  The section on Action explains the ways that the Canadian government can implement policy.
  7. Search both the Canadian Research Index and the Canadian Public Policy Collection which are specialized databases.

Note

  • Estimates are the  detailed breakdown of proposed spending by ministry and government agencies that must be debated and approved by the government (federal or provincial).  These detailed reports can continue information about revenues and expenditures are the actual monies received and spent in previous years.

A sample of federal government departments or organizations

Provincial governments

City of Ottawa

International

Legislation

Federal 

Department of Justice

Other federal legislation

Ontario

Other provinces

Statistics

Federal

Provincial

Ottawa

Cite Your Sources

Use our Citing your sources page to link to our APA guide, instructional videos and more.

The Literature Review

Writing for Social Work

The Columbia Guide to Social Work Writing

How to write a briefing note or cabinet memorandum

Content last updated: April 1, 2020