Social Work

During COVID-19 I am available by email as well as for virtual meetings. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you need assistance, or have any questions.  Margaret.

Pick a research 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
  • Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia or an encyclopedia.

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.

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

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 those words, in that sequence, side by side such as "Human Rights"

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 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.

Writing for Social Work

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.

Covid 19 Updates: 

However,  OMNI 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.

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 a citing article has itself been cited.


Check out our eBooks page for lots of useful information.

Watch this very short video about eBook etiquette

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 the 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

Web sources of grey literature

Social work organizations

Social research groups 

Social Work Gateways

More social work grey literature can be found under Special Topics

Government Documents

  • Open Government
  • Government of Canada's publications catalogue  This portal searches the following publications:
    • HillNotes: concise overviews of current and emerging issues of immediate interest
    • Background Papers: in-depth studies of policy issues with references
    • In Briefs: short briefings on current issues with references to more substantive discussions on the same topic
    • Legislative summaries: concise analyses of certain bills before Parliament

Historical parliamentary documents

Federal government policies 

  1. The government information webpage (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 the Canadian Research Index.


  • 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 contain information about revenues and expenditures and the actual monies received and spent in previous years.
  • Public Accounts are a detailed breakdown of what the government actually spent. These may be of use if estimates are not provided. 

City of Ottawa

More specific social work government documents can be found under Special Topics.

Data and Statistics

What is the Difference Between Data and Statistics?

Data are the raw materials out of which statistics are produced, usually available as digital files for manipulation in statistical software.  Statistics are facts or figures that tend to be aggregate counts, totals, sums, or averages.

Online Statistical consulting is available through the library.



Provincial - Most provinces have statistical offices and are easily found through Google.


Jump to: Abuse and Violence | Aging | Bereavement | Children and youth | Disabilities | Family | Feminism | Health | Homelessness | Human Rights | Immigration and resettlement | Labour | LGBTQ2+ | Mental Health | Poverty | Restorative JusticeSubstance Abuse | Suicide Prevention | Wellbeing | Citing your Sources in APA

Aboriginal Canadians

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Abuse and Violence

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Children and Youth

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Human Rights

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Immigration and resettlement

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Mental Health

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Restorative Justice

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Substance Abuse

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Suicide Prevention

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Citing Your Sources in APA

The School of Social Work uses APA Style as their default style. If you're not sure what style to use, check with your professor or T.A.

The 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020) is now available. There are some significant changes from APA 6th edition. Ask your professor which version they'd like you to use this semester.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: APA Formatting & Style Guide. They give examples of all kinds of references, both how to cite within your text as well as how to format the bibliography. Also includes a sample paper 
  • APA Style see their Quick Answers section or search their site. 
  • You can also just Google: "how do I cite xxxx in apa", which often turns up the official answer and other reputable (look for .edu or other university web sites). Example: "how do I cite a video in APA"

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Content last updated: March 29, 2021