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Social Work Doctoral Student Library Research: Searching Techniques

A guide to help incoming doctoral students in the field of Social Work. This guide is to introduce the students to key library resources to help them with their research and scholarship.

The Logic of Searching

Using Boolean Operators when searching will give you better, and more accurate, results.  

  1.  AND- Retrieves articles that contain all of the search terms and narrows down the results. 
  2. OR- Retrieves articles with any of the terms and broadens the search.  
  3. NOT- Eliminates articles containing the second term which narrows the search. 
  4. Using Quotations or brackets will search for a phrase as a whole. 
  5. Using Boolean logic and keywords are essential when searching library databases.  If you only search Google, you won’t get very far.  Google uses natural language, which is great when you want to find certain everyday things on the open web, but natural language doesn’t work in databases.  

Searching Using Methodology

Searching for studies that use a specific methodology

In the course of your research, you may want to find studies that utilize a particular methodology. Some databases (PsychINFO, for example) allow you to limit to a particular methodology in their Advanced Search options

The ERIC database uses a set of specific terms to name the various types of research methodolgies. These terms can be found using the thesaurus.

  • Participatory research
  • Mixed methods research
  • Evaluation research
  • Action research
  • Qualitative research
  • Grounded theory
  • Quasiexperimental design
  • Critical theory
  • Ethnography
  • Phenomenology

Selecting and Using Keywords

Citation Searching

Citation searching, or using the references cited by authors, not only leads researchers to other relevant articles on their subject of interest, it can also indicate the importance of a piece of research.

The importance and "impact" of scholarly research articles are often measured by

  • the number of times a published paper has been cited

  • the ranking of the journal in which a paper is published

  • the acceptance rate of submitted articles to a journal

The library has access to several citation databases that have the capability of searching by cited references. Additional information on journal rankings and acceptance rates may be found on journal websites.

Searching Using Limiters and Fields for Better Results

Most databases allow you to narrow your search results according to certain criteria.

Common limiters (also called filters) include:

  • Peer-Reviewed or Scholarly
  • Publication Date
  • Publication Type
  • Language

Limiters vary by database.  Please check the database's Help page, for specific information.