Social Work - Searching Tips & Tricks

This is a Social Work research guide. It offers a variety of information to help you with your research needs

Searching many websites at once

We all use Google and for certain research processes such as research on policies, laws, and government-related programs, using Google can be the quickest and easiest tool. BUT THERE IS A TRICK!

When searching Google for a policy, regulation, or program (just to name a few) type this into the search bar: ("Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" OR SNAP)

What this is doing is "telling" Google to ONLY search government websites (.gov) about "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" OR SNAP. It will search for nothing else and takes your literally MILLIONS of results down to a hundred thousand. You can do the same for .edu or .org sites.

Searching Like a Pro

Once you have the meat (your concepts), you can then start to put together a search strategy with AND/OR/NOT; (see image below). You should consider synonyms as well. Perhaps other authors refer to dogs as canines in their article or specifically the breed German Shepard. You want ot make sure you get ALL of the relevant possibilities for your research.

In-depth Search

At some point, you will be asked to write on or explore a topic that is more in-depth and thus will require a more comprehensive search. This can be a big task and where do you begin?

  1. I always start with the same matrix as seen below to keep my thoughts organized. On the left I will write my original concepts
  2. Next, I see if the database I am using has a thesaurus/subject heading database built within it. (MeSH is found in PubMed). I do this to understand how my term will be interpreted and if I agree. In the case of luxury food, I may choose to include luxury goods depending on the angle of my topic. (Again, see below)
  3. The last column is designed for words that are not included in the designated subject heading terminology or other synonyms in which my concept could be referred to in the literature. A great example is junk food. Perhaps authors wrote in a way that the term soda made more sense for their context or simply convenience food. You may want to include these other words using OR in your search to ensure you are getting all the relevant material.

Search Strategy Builder

In Google I can type in, "What's the weather like in Vancouver this weekend?" and I receive the answer. You need to dumb down your inquiry to short, important pieces of information for database searching.

To help you think through this process of building a good search, here's a little tool that can help you construct effective searches for ALICE, many article databases, and more. We call it Search Strategy Builder.

Just click on the link above, fill in the blanks, and click the button to create a Search Statement. You can then copy and paste that statement into the database of your choice.