1. Choose a topic
2. Focus on purpose
3. Formulate thesis statement
4. Develop Research Strategy (needs patience, trial and error, judgment)
- Avoid using the full thesis statement or topic as a search term, unless it is of one or two words only.
- Factor or analyze your topic and/or thesis statement e.g. Topic: Displaced populations can be factored into disaster victims, homelessness, immigrants, refugees.
- Select keywords from factors, and thesis statement, as well as, known names of persons who may have specialized in the subject or have contributed to the literature of the subject, and/or known relevant events or trends.
- Look for synonyms of keywords.( A dictionary, glossary, or general thesaurus like Roget's will be helpful).
5. Select suitable databases
- Look at names of databases and descriptions if given. (see below for list of selected databases relevant to social work studies.)
- Databases may include one or a combination of Index, Abstracts, Full Text.
- Databases may be indexed by word, term, or concept.
- If database offers a Thesaurus, use thesaurus terms that are assigned to your keyword or subject. A thesaurus is usually based on the "concept" method of indexing, where a term in the thesaurus represents a concept.
- While you will choose the databases with names that sound most relevant to your topic, do not overlook some of the general databases like Ebscohost and Infotrac that include many scholarly, research-oriented (peer-reviewed / refereed) journals that may yield valuable articles.
6. Start preliminary searching in database
- Read the search screen, look for tips, and help for searching and examples of how to formulate or phrase your search. Note different databases have different ways of searching.
- Search Operators may include
- boolean search: use of "and", "or", "not" (see attached explanation.)
- use of special characters e.g. quotation marks ( " "); the star ( *) , the exclamation mark ( ! )
- truncation characters, used to cover plurals of keywords, e.g. climat* for variations of climate, climates, climatic, etc.
- Some systems offer the choice of searching several databases at once. Place a check against the databases you wish to search.
7. Submit search and evaluate results
- Read titles, subtitles, abstracts. If articles retrieved are relevant, then
- Place a check mark (click in space provided) against the articles you find most relevant, for later printing, e-mailing, or downloading.
8. Take note of any terminology suggested by the Database
- Often in a footnote of the abstract there is list of terms relevant to the one searched. Sometimes referred to as Descriptors.
- Look at the descriptors and see if any fits your topic, so you can use them in future searches.
9. Evaluate results, if relevant, then …
10. Set search parameters (dates)
Decide what years you wish to cover in your search. The type of topic you chose will help determine this. If your topic or aspects of it are a relatively recent phenomenon, e.g. the occurrence of HIV in the Inner City, you may need to look for later articles. For a historical approach, older articles may be adequate. You decide the dates of the articles you desire.
11. Document your research strategy
- Make note of the terms which brought best results and in which database you used them. This will be useful for future searches.
- Bear in mind that each database is indexed singularly and differently and terms which yield relevant results in one database may not work as well for another. It may be prudent to repeat processes 5 through 9 for each database chosen.
12. Printing, E-Mailing, Downloading
- Some databases offer the option of printing, e-mailing and downloading. If you are working at a library workstation, you can e-mail the article to yourself and then read it at your convenience. For downloading, you need a diskette.
- Ensure that the articles you have printed include the full citation (i.e. author, title, name of publication, volume, number, date, page numbers.) You will need this information for the bibliography to your paper.
- For downloading, ensure that your disk is inserted in the right drive.
13. Selected Databases of Special Relevance to Social Work Studies
- Electronic Databases
- Resources on CD-ROM
- Dissertations Abstracts (CD-Rom in Founders Library)
- Social Work Reference Library (CD-Rom) in Social Work Library
- Sociometric Data Archives (CD-Rom in Social Work Library)
14. More About Sources